Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to trio for work in quantum mechanics

Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger won the prize for experiments with entangled photons

Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger have won the Nobel Prize for Physics 2022. Wikimedia Commons/Reuters
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The Nobel Prize for Physics 2022 has been awarded to three scientists for their work in quantum mechanics.

Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger won the prize for “experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science”.

The trio, from institutions in France, the US and Austria, worked independently. They were cited for discovering the way particles known as photons can be linked, or “entangled,” sharing information with each other, even when they are separated by large distances.

That effectively means what happens to one particle in an entangled pair determines what happens to the other, even if they are too far apart to affect each other.

“Quantum information science is a vibrant and rapidly developing field,” said Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel committee.

“It has broad and potential implications in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing and sensing technology.”

She said the trio's work has “opened doors to another world, and it has shaken the very foundation of how we interpret measurements.”

Speaking live at the prize ceremony, professor Zeilinger, said he was “very surprised” to get the call from the committee.

“I’m still kind of shocked, but it’s a positive shock,” said the Austrian, who is a professor of physics at the University of Vienna and senior scientist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

He said his work demonstrated quantum teleportation was possible.

“Quantum teleportation uses the features of entanglement,” Prof Zeilinger said.

“It is not like in the Star Trek films, or whatever, transporting something, certainly not a person, over some distance.

“But the point is using entanglement you can transfer all the information which is carried by an object over to some other place, where the object is.

“You can transfer the information without knowing the information.”

So far this has been done only with very small particles, he said.

But he dismissed the possibility teleportation will be used by people to travel one day.

“The teleportation of people is the same kind of science fiction as it always was,” he said.

'Spooky action at a distance'

Entanglement, once described by Albert Einstein as “spooky action at a distance,” is integral to the operation and power of quantum computing.

Abu Dhabi is currently building its own quantum computer, which will be able to process information at much faster speeds than classic technology.

Experts say the technology offers huge potential.

Today’s computers function using something called bits, which are arranged in a combination of ones and zeroes. A zero represents “off,” while “on” is a one.

Everything we see on a computer screen is made from a combination of these ones and zeroes.

But this binary system can be very limiting.

While the combinations can be used to reflect basic information and calculations, they cannot solve complicated problems.

Even the world’s largest supercomputer would eventually run out of space trying to choose the best solution to a problem with many options.

Quantum computers do not.

Instead of bits, they use quantum bits, or “qubits”.

By applying the principles of a branch of physics called quantum mechanics, qubits can be in two states at the same time.

So instead of being either “on” or “off”, the qubits can be on and off simultaneously. This is known as “superposition”.

This helps allow quantum computers to process multiple possibilities at once, solving problems at a much faster rate.

Faced with a choice of thousands of routes, traditional computers would try each in turn, ruling them out one by one.

But a quantum computer can test them all at once, reducing a calculation that would ordinarily take years to minutes.

The “magic” of quantum computing occurs when the qubits become entangled, thereby able to share information.

Earlier this month, it was announced scientists had entangled three qubits on silicon for the first time. Silicon is the material used in computers’ electronics today, so experts said it represented an important step in “bridging” the quantum and classical computer realms.

“Two-qubit operation is good enough to perform fundamental logical calculations,” quantum physicist Seigo Tarucha, from the Riken research institute in Japan told ScienceAlert.

“But a three-qubit system is the minimum unit for scaling up and implementing error correction.”

But quantum computers are as fragile as they are complex.

They require an ultra-cold environment to operate of just above zero Kelvin — a unit of temperature which is minus 273.15°C, the lowest physically possible temperature in the universe. That is colder than deep space.

On Monday, it was announced Svante Paabo had been awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”.

The Swedish geneticist, 67, has worked extensively on the Neanderthal genome and is known as a founder of paleogenetics.

Updated: October 04, 2022, 12:18 PM