The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics was announced this morning, going to Serge Haroche and Dave Wineland, “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”. This isn’t a pair that was getting much love from the prognosticators, but they’re an excellent choice. And, in fact, commenter KSC correctly picked Wineland in the betting pool and narrowly missed also getting Haroche.

Wineland has been on my mental list of people who ought to get a Nobel for a while, especially because he easily could’ve had a piece of the 1997 prize for laser cooling– the 1997 laureates won for cooling neutral atoms, but the basic techniques had been demonstrated with trapped ions by Wineland and his group before then. Wineland is best known for research on trapped ions with an eye toward quantum information processing, though he’s done a lot of other cool quantum optics things along the way. I’ve ResearchBlogged a few papers from his group (on quantum computing technology, optical clocks and relativity, moving trapped ions, and mercury atom clocks (my first official-type ResearchBlogging post…)), and papers from his group figure prominently in both of my books. One of the awesome things about his group is that they’re at NIST, and thus their papers are not subject to US copyright, allowing them to offer the Time and Frequency Publications Database– type “Wineland” into the author field, and you’ll have instant access to more amazing AMO physics papers than you ever knew you wanted.

In past years, I’ve usually grouped Wineland with Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger in a sort of “cool quantum stuff” prize, but Haroche is also an outstanding choice. Haroche’s field is cavity QED, which uses optical cavities (two mirrors placed facing each other) to store photons and greatly increase the strength of the interaction between the photons in the cavity and any atoms that pass through the cavity. Haroche hasn’t shown up on the blog as much as Wineland, but I have written up two of his papers using the quantum zeno effect and the life cycle of microwave photons.

This prize honors some truly outstanding work, and also keeps up a few Nobel traditions. Though it was much talked about, they didn’t give the prize to the Higgs boson (either theory or experiment) thus avoiding both moving too quickly (in the case of the experiment) and needing to find a way to cut the list down to three or fewer names (in the case of the theory). They also keep up the tradition of creating minor controversy, as Haroche is best known for cavity QED, opening room to ask why Jeff Kimble didn’t get in as a third laureate here. And, most importantly, they continue the tradition of taunting Matt Leifer by almost-but-not-quite giving a Nobel for quantum information/ quantum foundations work…

This also increases the count of Nobel laureates I’ve met by two, as both Wineland and Haroche visited Bill Phillips’s lab at NIST while I was there. They were both very nice to an insignificant grad student when they got the lab tour, so I heartily approve of this prize on those grounds, as well.

Anyway, congratulations to Dave Wineland, Serge Haroche, and betting pool winner KSC. And if you haven’t entered the betting pool yourself, there’s still time to enter and win for one of the lesser Nobel categories…


  1. #1 KSC
    October 9, 2012

    The two laureates deserve their Nobel Prize. No question about it. They made fundamental contributions to the field cavity Quantum Electrodynamics in the microwave domain and to the field of trapped ions. Just a little history on cavity QED experiments… Serge Haroche and Herbert Walther shaped the landscape of cavity QED in the microwave domain, and have made fundamental discoveries including quantum measurement, the creation of Schrodinger cat states, and the intricate studies of decoherences and state collapse.

    Since the late 1980s, Jeff Kimble and colleagues opened the field of cavity QED in the optical domain, which is conceptually very different from experiments in the microwave domain. I think the physics explored in the optical domain is radically different and is complementary to the work in the microwave domain. I feel quite strongly that Kimble has made very fundamental contributions to our understanding of atom-light interaction at the single quanta,
    starting from his work with Mandel on resonance fluorescence to the work on single atoms and photons in the strong coupling regime. These are really challenging experiments, which influenced in part the development of circuit QED and optical metrology, let alone QIS. Just as the 2012 Nobel citation reads, “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems,” it is disappointing to see that the Nobel committee has left out Jeff Kimble for the third person.
    Dave Wineland, Serge Haroche, and Jeff Kimble would have been a wonderful set. Perhaps, Kimble will receive the award for another citation later.

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