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Physics Nobel Prize in a superposition between three quantum physicists
Physicists Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics this week for performing breakthrough quantum entanglement experiments.
Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which a group of particles share a quantum state even when they are physically separate over some distance. Measuring the momentum, spin, or polarization of one particle instantaneously affects and determines the state of other entangled particles in the same system.
The nature of entanglement was fiercely debated among physicists. Some thought information could not travel faster than the light and there must be some other process impacting the particles in the system while others believed the weird phenomena showed a breakdown in classical physics, paving the way for quantum mechanics.
In 1964, John Stewart Bell came up with a theoretical framework that tests if the entanglement effects were due to some hidden variables affecting the entangled particles. Bell's inequalities describe the mathematical constraints an entangled system must obey if it is affected by these local hidden variables.
The trio of boffins who bagged the Nobel Prize for Physics this week did so, we're told, "for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science." That means they proved quantum entanglement was an inherent property of the particles; that hidden variables do not impact the outcome of measurements.
From left, Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger ... Image Credit: Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach
Clauser, 79, and Aspect, 75, performed the initial experiments proving that entangled particles violated Bell's inequalities in separate projects conducted in the US and France. Zeilinger, 77, later applied the results in other experiments demonstrating other entanglement-related effects such as quantum teleportation of a qubit.
"It has become increasingly clear that a new kind of quantum technology is emerging," Anders Irbäck, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said on Tuesday. "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."
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Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize in Physiology was won by Swede Svante Pääbo "for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution." The evolutionary geneticist sequenced the genomes of Neanderthals and discovered Denisovans, another ancient human ancestor species using DNA analysis.
He showed that genes transferred between these hominins as they migrated from Africa 70,000 years ago affected the biological functions of modern Homo sapiens today, such as how our immune systems defend against infections.
Pääbo, 67, will scoop the total ten million Swedish Kronor prize, worth over $900,000 or £800,000, for the Nobel Prize in Physiology, whilst Aspect, Clauser and Zeilinger will split the same amount for the Nobel Prize in Physics equally. ®