Three scientists who laid the groundwork for understanding the strange “entanglement” behavior of quantum particles have been awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics.
French physicist Alain Aspect, Austrian Anton Zeilinger and American John Clauser were honored for their experiments exploring the nature of entangled quantum particles.
Defying the logic of our everyday reality, such particles behave as a single unit even when they are far apart from each other. Engineers are currently working to harness this strange behavior in a range of revolutionary technologies, including quantum computers and quantum cryptographya supposedly unbreakable technique for encoding secure information.
The beginning of quantum theory dates back to the great physicists of the early 20th century, including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. But the generation represented by the three young Nobel laureates bridged the gap between theory and practical experiments and applications.
Related: 10 Shocking Things You Should Know About Quantum Physics
“Quantum information science is a vibrant and rapidly developing field. It has a wide range of potential implications in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing and sensing technology,” said Eva Olsson, member of the Nobel Committee for Physics. press conference on Tuesday (October 4). “This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics honors the ground-breaking work and science of the central figures who took up the challenges and tackled them in the labs.”
One of the most mature applications of quantum technology is quantum cryptography, which exploits the fact that changes made to one particle in an entangled system affect another. Encryption keys to secret messages can therefore be encoded in the quantum states of such particles. These keys can be exchanged between parties in the communication process securely, because any interception of the secret keys by a third party would inherently change the quantum state of the particles and render the keys invalid.
Distribution of quantum keys via satellites first introduced by China in 2016 as part of the Quantum Experiments in Space Scale project. Countries around the world they have since started developing similar technologies.
Perhaps the most high-profile application of entangled quantum particles is in its nascent field quantum computing. Quantum computers encode information in the quantum states of particles, which can lead to huge leaps in information processing speed.
Scientists believe that, once operational, quantum computers will accelerate drug research, materials science and lead to improvements in climate change modeling and weather forecasting, among other benefits.
“It has become increasingly clear that a new kind of quantum technology is emerging,” Anders Irback, chairman of the Nobel Physics Committee, said in a statement. “We can see that the work of the entangled state laureates is of great importance, even beyond the fundamental questions about the interpretation of quantum mechanics.”
“This award demonstrates the fundamental beauty of physics,” Penelope Lewis, chief of publications for the American Institute of Physics’ Division of Publications, said in a statement. “With their groundbreaking experiments in quantum entanglement, Aspect, Clauser, and Zeilinger have brought quantum mechanics from its philosophical beginnings—dating back nearly a century—to today. Technologies with the potential to transform the modern world.”
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