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 on the smallest possible scales.
The award goes to Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger. The researchers will share a cash prize 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 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 transmission, 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, works at the University of Vienna. The same three men won the 2010 Wolf Award together.
Anton Zeilinger was called early in the morning to be told that he had won. “I’m still a bit shocked, but it’s a very positive surprise,” he said.
Quantum mechanics describes the behavior of subatomic particles. It is an area of research that began at the beginning of the 20th century.
One of the fields of quantum mechanics is “entanglement”, in which two or more quantum particles – usually photons, particles of light – can remain tightly bound when they are very far apart and not physically connected.
Your common 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 experiments to show that the phenomenon was real and could have practical uses.
“I’ve 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 that you might have.”
Two areas of practical use for entanglement research have recently attracted much attention. One is quantum computers, which promise a huge leap in the ability of machines to solve complex problems. And the second is in encryption, secure coding 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 I know of was made by the Chinese, who launched a satellite a few years ago that they use for secure communication over thousands of kilometers.”
Professor Tim Spiller from the University of York, UK, said Tuesday’s laureates were worthy winners who helped open up opportunities for an exciting future.
“Quantum technologies have been significantly explored 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 different aspects of this quantum resource and hopefully 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 – particularly the Earth’s climate.
On Monday, the Nobel committee awarded the prize in physiology or medicine to Svante Paab of Sweden for his work on human evolution.
Former winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics
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