American Among Nobel Winners For Quantum Physics Research

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 9 2012 9:21 AM

And the Nobel Prize in Physics Goes to ....

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Journalists wait for the announcement of the laureates the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm

Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/GettyImages.

Frenchman Serge Haroche and American David Wineland were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics this morning for what the selection committee called their "ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems."

That research has helped lay the groundwork for the building of new superfast computers that rely on quantum physics, as well as the construction of extremely precise clocks that could one day become the basis for a new standard of time, according to the panel.

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The Associated Press with the details for those of us who maxed out at high school science:

"A quantum particle is one that is isolated from everything else. In this situation, an atom or electron or photon takes on strange properties. It can be in two places at once, for example. It behaves in some ways like a wave. But these properties are instantly changed when it interacts with something else, such as when somebody observes it. ...
"The two researchers use opposite approaches to examine, control and count quantum particles, the academy said. Wineland traps ions—electrically charged atoms—and measures them with light, while Haroche controls and measures photons, or light particles."

You can read the official Nobel announcement here. Slate contributors Charles Seife and Jennifer Ouellette both predicted that someone working in quantum systems would win the physics Nobel, with Seife naming one of the two winners. You can check out the rest of Slate's Nobel prize predictions here.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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