Anton Zeilinger, a professor at the University of Vienna and a AAAS elected fellow, is one of three winners of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking work on quantum entangled states.
Zeilinger shares the 10 million Swedish krona prize with Alain Aspect, professor at France’s Université Paris-Saclay and École Polytechnique, and John F. Clauser, research physicist at J.F. Clauser & Associates. The prize recognizes the researchers “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science,” The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced October 4.
Their research has illuminated the power and potential of entanglement, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics – the field that characterizes the behavior of light and matter at the atomic and subatomic level – in which two or more particles behave the same without necessarily being near one another.
While today we consider entanglement “logical, measurable and quantifiable,” it was once debated by Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein in purely theoretical terms, said Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, at the press conference announcing Zeilinger, Aspect and Clauser’s win. In 1930s, Einstein derided entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.”
Building upon the 1960s work of John Stewart Bell, the trio of researchers brought this debate into their laboratories, where they conducted groundbreaking experiments that found entanglement was not bound by the rules of classical mechanics but rather by the predictions of quantum mechanics.
“Why this happens I haven’t the foggiest,” Clauser told The Associated Press today. “I have no understanding of how it works but entanglement appears to be very real.”
Zeilinger’s work, for instance, first demonstrated a phenomenon known as “quantum teleportation,” in which a quantum state is transferred from one particle to another, in 1997. Quantum teleportation is the only way to transfer quantum information from one system to another without losing any part of it, the committee noted.
The Nobel Committee also acknowledged that the “ineffable” nature of quantum entanglement has very real applications.
“It has become increasingly clear that a new kind of quantum technology is emerging. We can see that the laureates’ work with entangled states is of great importance, even beyond the fundamental questions about the interpretation of quantum mechanics,” said Anders Irbäck, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.
Quantum information science is a “vibrant and rapidly developing field” with impacts for secure information transfer, quantum computing and sensing technology, added Olsson.
The trio of researchers have previously been recognized for their groundbreaking work. All three received the Wolf Prize in physics in 2012, often awarded to researchers who go on to receive the Nobel Prize. Zeilinger was elected a AAAS fellow the same year “for pioneering contributions to quantum physics, including quantum entanglement, teleportation, and cryptography.”
Said Thors Hans Hansson, member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, “Today we honor three physicists whose pioneering experiments showed us that the strange quantum world of entanglement and Bell pairs is not just the microworld of atoms, and certainly not a virtual world of mysticism or science fiction, but the real world we live in.”