The Nobel Prize in Physics 2012
Serge Haroche, David J. Wineland
Born: 1944, Casablanca, Morocco
Affiliation at the time of the award: Collège de France, Paris, France, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
Prize motivation: "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems"
Field: atomic physics
When it comes to the smallest components of our universe, our usual understanding of how the world works ceases to apply. We have entered the often paradoxical and difficult-to-comprehend realm of quantum physics. In this world, the same object can exist in different states simultaneously. For a long time, many quantum phenomena could only be examined theoretically. David Wineland and Serge Haroche are responsible for the development of ingenious experiments designed to study quantum phenomena when matter and light interact.
Using electric fields, Wineland has successfully captured electrically charged atoms, or ions, in a kind of trap and studied them with the help of small packets of light, or photons. Haroche has been able to capture photons using another kind of trap - two mirrors which they can bounce between. This device allowed Haroche to study the photons by passing atoms through the trap. Wineland has been able to create incredibly precise clocks based on his discoveries. These discoveries may also make it possible to build computers that are much faster than those we use today.