Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Physics Nobel prize: Haroche and Wineland

Possible building blocks of quantum computers

I am actually surprised that we have a higgsless Nobel prize. However, among the non-Higgs potential candidates, the actual winners belonged among the most widely discussed ones. The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Serge Haroche of Paris, France (captured photons, man on the left side) who was born in a protectorate known as Morocco and David Wineland of NIST in Boulder, Colorado (ion storage, man on the right side).

The Gentlemen are rewarded for experiments with individual tiny quantum systems (at most several ions and/or photons) that are hoped to become foundations of quantum computers sometime in the future. It means that their work is all about the experimental proofs of the superposition principle, a basic postulate of quantum mechanics – they may prepare their systems in any complex linear combination of someone's preferred basis vectors. To do so, they are able to implement various unitary operations on the particles' state vectors – unitary operations that could once become true operations of a useful gadget, the quantum computer.

In particular, Wineland became famous for laser cooling of ions in Paul traps and preparation of these ions' entangled states. Serge Haroche is the photon tamer. He was able to catch photons into boxes with mirrors (studied by "cavity QED") where they get reflected a billion of times before they get absorbed or "decay"; this allowed him to measure the growing entanglement of the photons with the atoms or, you could say, decoherence in action.

Well, it's plausible that the quantum computer will ultimately be built out of very different elements, e.g. silicon atoms or impurities in a diamond, but only time will show. Some experts believe that quantum computers are just five years away.

These guys represent the topic often covered on this blog, the foundations of quantum mechanics, and I am confident that I would agree with them. If a Nobel prize went to one of the anti-quantum warriors, it would start to be really bad. It's not bad, they're the good guys. ;-)

You may buy a 2006 book on the foundations of quantum mechanics co-authored by Serge Haroche, one of the fresh Nobel prize winners. There are hundreds of articles on foundations of quantum mechanics on this blog (492 articles contain "quantum mechanics", and even quantum computer brings you above 100 articles) and I don't think that either of them is really more appropriate than others in the context of this Nobel prize.

However, I may still single out my introduction to quantum computation.

Some comments about quantum computers from David Wineland, one of the winners. Check other videos with him.

Some guys I know from Harvard – Mikhail Lukin, Markus Greiner, Eugene Demler, and a few others – have been doing research on topics closely related to the subject of this Nobel prize.

Finally, an appropriate song: My sweetheart is a Nobel prize by the LHC (Les Horribles Cernettes). Buy the songs.


  1. Hansen, Schmidt, Mann and Pierrehumbert were ROBBED again! Where is the Nobel justice?!???


  2. When the influence of these men was just a few orders of magnitude than it is today, I would still have viewed similar jokes as funny. Not anymore. ;-)

  3. Bravo Monsieur Haroche... and to all the physicists who are working hard to make our world an exciting one.

    I love the song :-)

  4. Congrats to your Liberté, égalité, fraternité Nobel prize, Shannon!

  5. Isn't a defining feature of quantum computing that it is always "five years away"? My guess is that before quantum computers will be real "hypercomputers" will take over with their ability to compute functions that Turing machines cannot compute.

  6. If you should remember anything from this occasion, Motl, aside from physics, then just remember that Jews are still living peacefully in Moroco and they give birth to Nobel prize winners, so that you don't make again false claims on religious minorities being tortured in Muslim countries !

  7. Oh, really? And how do you explain that 95% of the Jews who lived there in the 1940s had to leave the country?

  8. Who are these nobodys?

    Go Milner Prize! Nobel go to hell...

  9. Wineland graduated from Encina High School in Sacramento, California in 1961.[1]

    Big story here in Sacramento.
    Frenchman, American win Nobel for quantum physics

    (David Wineland Encina High graduation pic)

    Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/10/08/4893596/physics-prize-up-next-on-nobel.html#storylink=cpy

  10. Do you think it's a coincidence that the state of Israel was founded immediately after these Jews left their country, after having lived there for two thousand years ?!

  11. Some experts believe quantum computers are just five years away. I always have. I always will.

  12. I'm somehow disappointed that this year's physics Nobel is completely unrelated to the higgs :-/

    But it is a fair choice I think, even though Sean Carroll is saying strange things about QM in his post about the Nobel Prize ...

  13. Hm, I would probably not use your exact words ... ;-)

    but I like the Milner Prize much better too, since it can and it obviously does get awarded to people who do really cool awesome stuff :-)

  14. I though zilinger was a better candidate, no?


  15. Uuuuuh, these first introductary sentences in Matt Strasslers article about the physics Nobel:

    "Just ask the Nobel Prize committee: is quantum physics some sort of
    speculative new science? (A smart educated woman asked me, just a week
    ago, `What do you think about that quantum physics stuff?’, as
    though it were in the same category as theories of consciousness,
    speculations about the origin of life, and string theory.) ..."

    are really stodgy ...

  16. That must have been a tough decision that 95% of them left. German jews had more faith in their homeland during 1930s.

  17. Have some relevant family and personal knowledge and experience. I have never been to Morocco but concede that Jews in modern Morocco are not treated as other Muslim countries and the various lunatic clerics would. But one can not logically negate Dr. Motl assertion unless he was claiming that all muslim countries torture including Morocco torture all religious minorities includin

  18. Dear Tareq, the answer is not really. What I consider to be a non-coincidence is that the Jews left once Morocco gained the independence from France and its previous civilized manners.

  19. Oh, didn't you read in the same Wikipedia article that the second wave of Jewish immigration to Moroco and the "Islamic" North Africa was from Spain and Portugal, escaping from the persecution of the new Christian kingdoms after having lived there with Muslims for hundreds of year ?! To your surprise (!), they fled from the "civilized" Catholic Inquisition courts to live again with Muslims, and all that before the Moroccans knew the "civilized" manners of the French occupation !

  20. Sorry, I don't consider Inquistion-led systems to be civilized, it was almost the same thing as Islam.

    A difference is that the West has abolished Inquisition many centuries ago and the Christian churches got civilized in many ways. That's not true for Islam.

  21. Why are you blinding yourself from the FACT that Jews and Christians lived in Andalusia and other Islamic states for hundreds of years without any problems?

  22. I haven't said that Jews and Christians couldn't sometimes live in Andalusia without problems. I said that I didn't consider Inquisition-governed regimes to be civilized.

  23. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for the exposition on the foundations of quantum mechanics. I

    could now appreciate this post better in the context of your recent post on

    Nobel prize winners. I regularly follow your blog which helps me gain a

    better insight into what I work with.

    sincerely yours,

    sreekar guddeti



  24. Nobodys????

    Please try to understand that physics is not equal to high energy physics. Scientists working in the field of quantum optics also make very important contributions to our understanding of the quantum world. For example, Haroche did cavity QED experiments with Schrödinger cat states and studied decoherence. The work of these people is important.

  25. In my opinion, the experiments which investigate the foundations of quantum physics are really cool awesome stuff ! :)

  26. Ok, I did not mean to say that the things awarded (this year or generally) by the Nobal are not cool and awesome stuff, on the contrary ;-).

    But there are people out there doing other cool and awesome stuff that would never ever be acknowledged by a Nobel, since the Nobel is more experimentally inclined (I'm not saying this is bad !). And these other things can now get awarded with the Milner fundamental physics prize to set a signal that such fundamental considerations and investigations are valuable too.
    And since I'm very interested in fundamental physics, I'm happy that we have this new prize now in addition to the Nobel, I like it.

    For some reason I was Guest :-/