French and U.S. Scientists Win Nobel Physics Prize
Two physicists who developed techniques to study the interplay between light and matter on the smallest and most intimate imaginable scale won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday. They are Serge Haroche, of the Collège de France and the École Normale Supérieure, in Paris, and David Wineland, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado.
They will split 8 million Swedish krona, or about $1.2 million, and receive their award in Stockholm on Dec. 10.
Their work, the academy said, enables scientists to directly observe some of the most bizarre effects — like the subatomic analogue of cats who are alive and dead at the same time — predicted by the quantum laws that prevail in the microcosm, and could lead eventually to quantum computers and super accurate clocks.
Reached by the Nobel committee while walking with his wife this morning in Paris, Dr. Haroche said that when he saw the area code on his phone, he said he had to go sit down on a bench. “It was real,” he said in a phone news conference.
Scientists have known for a hundred years now that atoms are not like you and me. On the smallest scales of nature the common sense laws of science had been overthrown by the strange house rules of quantum mechanics, in which physical systems were represented by mathematical formulations called wave functions that encapsulated all the possibilities of some event or object. Light or a subatomic particle like an electron could be a wave or a particle depending on how you wanted to look at it, and causes were not guaranteed to be linked to effects. An electron could be in two places at once, or everywhere until someone measured it, courtesy of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, which caused a cranky Einstein to grumble that God didn’t play dice.