Three scientists shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for demonstrating that tiny particles can maintain a connection with each other even when separated, a phenomenon that was previously unknown but is now being investigated for potential real-world applications such as encrypting data.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser, and Austrian Anton Zeilinger for experiments revealing the “completely bizarre” area of quantum entanglements to be all too real. They established that unseen particles, such as photons, can be linked to each other, or “entangled,” even when separated by huge distances. It all stems from a property of the world that even Albert Einstein couldn’t explain and connects matter and light in a twisted, chaotic fashion.
Bits of information or matter that were formerly adjacent but are now separated have a connection or relationship—something that might potentially assist encrypt information or even teleport. A Chinese satellite now illustrates this, and possibly lightning fast quantum computers, which are still in the early and unusable stages, rely on this entanglement as well. Others hope to employ it in superconducting materials.
“It’s very strange,” Aspect said of entanglement during a phone conversation with the Nobel committee. “I’m accepting something completely insane in my mind images.” However, the trio’s experiments demonstrated that it can happen in real life. “I have no idea why this happens,” Clauser said during a Zoom interview after receiving the formal call from the Swedish Academy many hours after friends and media alerted him of his honor. “I’m not sure how it works, but entanglement looks to be extremely genuine.”
His fellow awardees have similarly stated that they are unable to explain the how and why of this phenomenon. But each conducted increasingly complex experiments to demonstrate that it simply is. Clauser, 79, received his honor for a scrounged-together experiment in 1972 that helped settle a major argument over quantum mechanics between Einstein and prominent physicist Niels Bohr. Einstein described “a strange action at a distance” that he believed will be disproved in the future.
Clauser explained, “I was betting on Einstein.” “However, I was wrong, Einstein was wrong, and Bohr was right.” According to Aspect, Einstein was technically incorrect, but he deserves a lot of credit for asking the proper question, which led to tests confirming quantum entanglement. “Most people would believe that nature is made up of objects spread throughout space and time,” said Clauser, who constructed a video game on a vacuum tube computer as a high school student in the 1950s. “And that does not appear to be the case.”
According to Johns Hopkins physicist N. Peter Armitage, the research reveals that “pieces of the universe—even those at tremendous distances from each other—are connected.” “This is so counterintuitive and contradictory to how we believe the world’should’ be.” This difficult-to-understand field began with thinking experiments. But what appears to be philosophical reflections on the universe also holds out hope for more secure and quicker computers, all based on entangled photons and matter that continue to interact no matter how far apart they are.
“With my first trials, I was sometimes questioned what they were good for by the press,” Zeilinger, 77, told reporters in Vienna. “And I proudly declared, ‘It’s useless.’ I’m only doing this out of curiosity.’ “In quantum entanglement, establishing common information between two photons that are not close to each other “allows us to accomplish things like covert communication in ways that were not previously feasible.” “David Haviland, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, stated
According to Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel committee, quantum information “has broad and potentially significant consequences in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing, and sensing technology.” “Its forecasts have opened doors to a different universe while also shaking the very underpinnings of how we interpret measurements.”
The type of encrypted communication utilized by China’s Micius satellite, as well as by some banks, is a “success story of quantum entanglement,” according to Trinity College Dublin’s Harun Siljak. By employing one entangled particle to generate an encryption key, it ensures that only the person in possession of the other entangled particle can decode the message, and “the secret shared between these two sides is a proper secret,” according to Siljak.
While quantum entanglement is “very interesting,” security scientist and Harvard professor Bruce Schneier says it is bolstering an already secure portion of information technology where other areas, such as human factors and software, are more of an issue. He compared it to adding a side door with 25 locks to an otherwise unsafe residence.
Aspect stated during a press conference that real-world applications like the satellite were “amazing.” “I believe we are making progress toward quantum computing. I wouldn’t say we’re very close “According to the 75-year-old physicist. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever see it. But I’m a senior citizen.” Speaking to a news conference via phone following the announcement, Zeilinger, who is based at the University of Vienna, said he was “still kind of startled” to learn he had won the award.
For more than a decade, Clauser, Aspect, and Zeilinger have been mentioned in Nobel speculation. They won the Wolf Prize in Israel in 2010, which is regarded as a possible predecessor to the Nobel Prize. According to the Nobel committee, Clauser turned quantum theories first proposed in the 1960s into a practical experiment. Aspect was able to close a gap in those theories, while Zeilinger demonstrated quantum teleportation, a process that effectively permits information to be transported over long distances.
“By using entanglement, you can transport all of the information contained by an object to another location where the object is, in a sense, recreated,” Zeilinger explained. He went on to say that this only works for microscopic particles. “It’s not like in the Star Trek movies where you’re transferring something, certainly not a person, over a long distance,” he explained.
The week of Nobel Prize announcements began on Monday, with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo earning the honor in medicine for revealing secrets of Neanderthal DNA that provided critical insights into our immune system. Wednesday is chemistry, and Thursday is literature. The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Friday, while the Nobel Prize in Economics will be awarded on October 10. The rewards are worth 10 million Swedish kronor (almost $900,000) and will be awarded on December 10. The money was left by the prize’s originator, Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.