This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics went to researchers in quantum mechanics — the science that describes the behavior of subatomic particles, that is, physics at the smallest possible scales.
The prize goes to Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger. The researchers will split the prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (R$ 4.7 million).
The work of these scientists could pave the way for a new generation of powerful computers and telecommunications systems that are impossible to hack.
This year’s three laureates have conducted groundbreaking experiments using entangled quantum states, where two subatomic particles behave as a single unit, even when separated.
“Quantum information science is a vibrant and rapidly developing field,” said Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics. “It has broad and potential implications in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing and detection technology.”
Alain Aspect, 75, is affiliated with Université Paris-Saclay and École Polytechnique, Palaiseau. John Clauser, 79, runs his own company in California. Anton Zeilinger, 77, is attached to the University of Vienna. The same three men won the Wolf Prize together in 2010.
Anton Zeilinger got an early morning call to say he had won. “I’m still kind of shocked, but it’s a very positive surprise,” he said.
Quantum mechanics describes the behavior of subatomic particles. It is a field of research that began in the early 20th century.
One of the fields of quantum mechanics is “entanglement,” in which two or more quantum particles — usually photons, the particles of light — can remain tightly connected when very far apart and not physically linked.
Your shared state can be your energy or your spin. It’s a strange phenomenon that Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”.
The theoretical basis was developed in the 1960s by the Northern Irish physicist John Stewart Bell. But it was Aspect, Clauser and Zeilinger who conducted the experiments to show that the phenomenon was real and could have practical uses.
“I have always been interested in quantum mechanics from the first moments I read about it,” Zeilinger told BBC News. “And I was really impressed with some of the theoretical predictions because they didn’t fit the usual intuitions you might have.”
Two areas of practical use for entanglement research are gaining a lot of attention in recent times. One is quantum computers, which promise a giant leap in machines’ ability to solve complex problems. And the other is in encryption, the secure encoding of information. Exploiting quantum entanglement will make it impossible for a third party to eavesdrop on private communications.
“This is useful for the military and banks, etc., in secure communications,” said John Clauser. “The biggest application that I know of was made by the Chinese, who launched a satellite several years ago that they use for secure communications over thousands of kilometers.”
Professor Tim Spiller of the University of York, UK, said Tuesday’s laureates were worthy winners who helped open up possibilities for an exciting future.
“Quantum technologies have been researched significantly in the UK and many other countries over the last 10 years. We’ve known about entanglement for much longer than that, but the investment has been made in the last 10 years. And now there are one or two commercial products. emerging technologies that you can buy that use various aspects of this quantum resource, and we hope there will be many more in the future,” he told BBC News.
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to three researchers who have advanced our understanding of complex systems – in particular, the Earth’s climate.
On Monday, the Nobel committee awarded the prize in Physiology or Medicine to Svante Paabo from Sweden for his work on human evolution.
Past Nobel Prize winners in Physics
- 2021 – Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi received the award for advancing our understanding of complex systems such as Earth’s climate.
- 2020 – Sir Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez received the award for their work on the nature of black holes.
- 2019 – James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz shared the award for groundbreaking discoveries about the Universe.
- 2018 – Donna Strickland, Arthur Ashkin and Gerard Mourou were awarded for their discoveries in the field of laser physics.
- 2017 – Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish won the award for detecting gravitational waves.
- 2016 – David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz shared the award for their work on rare states of matter.
- 2015 – Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald received the award for the discovery that neutrinos switch between different states