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French, U.S. scientists share 2012 Nobel Physics Prize

By Lennart Simonsson –

STOCKHOLM — Scientists Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the United States on Tuesday shared the 2012 Nobel Physics Prize for “groundbreaking” research on the interaction between light and matter in the field of quantum optics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the two have “opened the door to a new era of experimentation with quantum physics by demonstrating the direct observation of individual quantum particles without destroying them.”

The Nobel Committee said the two researchers had independently of each other managed to “measure and control very fragile quantum states, which were thought inaccessible for direct observation.”

“The new methods allow them to examine, control and count the particles,” it added.

Their findings could in future lead to new super fast computers and new clocks that are more precise than current cesium-based atomic clocks.

Haroche, professor at College de France and Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, said he was overwhelmed upon hearing that he had been awarded the prize along with Wineland.

“I did not see the prize coming. I saw myself just as one of the candidates. There are many people who deserve the prize. It was a wonderful surprise,” Haroche said by telephone. “We will have champagne at home, and then I will go to the lab.”

Wineland with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado at Boulder in the United States managed to trap electrically charged atoms, ions, and used light particles, photons, to control and measure the ions.

Haroche controlled and measured photons by sending atoms through a trap, the academy said.

The physics prize is worth $1.2 million. It was the second of the annual Nobel prizes to be announced. On Monday John B Gurdon of Britain and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, shared the medicine prize for research into how cells and organisms develop, which may lead to new treatments for diseases.

The Nobel prize for chemistry is due Wednesday, followed by literature on Thursday and peace on Friday.

The prizes were endowed by Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

The Nobel for economic sciences — a prize not endowed by Nobel and awarded since 1968 — is due to be announced on October 15.

Last year, the physics prize was awarded to Saul Perlmutter of the United States, Brian Schmidt, who holds U.S. and Australian citizenship, and Adam Riess of the U.S. for observations of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

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