The Two-Way
12:57 am
Tue October 9, 2012

French And American Scientists Share Physics Nobel

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 3:07 am

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the United States for their work on the "fundamental interactions between light particles and matter."

"The Nobel laureates have opened the door to a new era of experimentation with quantum physics by demonstrating the direct observation of individual quantum particles without destroying them," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

Their work, the Nobel committee says, has laid the foundation for development of a super-fast computer based on quantum physics and precise clocks that could become "the future basis for a new standard of time."

Each full Nobel prize is worth 8 million Swedish kroner — about $1.2 million. Haroche and Wineland will share that amount.

NPR's Richard Harris is due to be on Morning Edition and All Things Considered later today to talk about the physics prize. We'll have more on the physics prize shortly.

Update at 7:25 a.m. ET. Key To Understanding Subatomic Particles:

On Morning Edition, Richard said that the two scientists figured out how to "observe and manipulate subatomic particles without destroying them." That's important, he said, because it allows scientists to understand how those particles behave, which in turn could lead to breakthroughs in quantum computing.

Update at 6:15 a.m. ET. More About The Honorees And Their Work:

Haroche is a professor at Collége de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Wineland is a group leader and NIST Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado, Boulder.

According to the Nobel committee, they have "independently invented and developed ground-breaking methods for measuring and manipulating individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature, in ways that were previously thought unattainable."

The committee says that "through their ingenious laboratory methods they have managed to measure and control very fragile quantum states, enabling their field of research to take the very first steps towards building a new type of super fast computer, based on quantum physics. These methods have also led to the construction of extremely precise clocks that could become the future basis for a new standard of time, with more than hundred-fold greater precision than present-day caesium clocks."

The Nobel has posted scientific background on the winners' work here. Here's an excerpt:

"This year's Nobel Prize in Physics honors the experimental inventions and discoveries that have allowed the measurement and control of individual quantum systems. They belong to two separate but related technologies: ions in a harmonic trap and photons in a cavity."

The other 2012 prizes:

On Monday, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John B. Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, England, and Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan. They discovered that mature and specialized cells "can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body," according to the Nobel committee. It's hoped that such cells will lead to new treatments for many diseases.

The remaining Nobel prizes and the days they will be announced:

-- Chemistry on Wednesday.

-- Literature on Thursday.

-- Peace on Friday.

-- Economics next Monday.

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