Alain Aspect, who won a long-awaited Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday, not only helped prove the strange theory of quantum entanglement but also inspired a generation of physicists in his native France, former students and colleagues said.
Quantum entanglement is the theory – famously rejected by Albert Einstein – that when a particle is split in two, the properties of the two new particles remain connected, as if by an invisible string, no matter how far apart they are.
It remained a theory until Aspect and his team first proved the phenomenon in a lab experiment in 1981, where two photons — units of light — became entangled at a distance of 12 meters (40 feet).
The experiment paved the way for what Aspect has called the “second quantum revolution,” leading to a range of new technologies, including quantum computing, encryption, and more.
“Quantum strangeness has dominated my entire life as a physicist,” Aspect told AFP in a 2010 interview.
His experiment finally settled a debate more than 60 years earlier between Einstein and one of the founders of quantum physics, the Danish Niels Bohr.
Bohr believed in quantum entanglement, but Einstein — whose work helped predict the phenomenon — famously argued against it, calling it “ghostly action at a distance.”
“Bohr is winning from a certain point of view,” Aspect said in an interview published Tuesday by the Nobel Foundation after his win.
“But Einstein wins because he saw something extraordinary,” he added.
Aspect said he was proud to be on the same list of Nobel laureates who “completely changed physics.”
Awarded jointly with Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger and John Clauser from the United States, Aspect emphasized the importance of international scientific cooperation “at a time when the world is not so beautiful, and where nationalism is taking over in many countries”.
Aspect, the son of a teacher, was born in 1947 in Agen in southwestern France.
He came second in the French physics exam and is currently a professor at the Paris-Saclay University and at the Ecole Polytechnique. He is now 74, married and has two children.
Aspect has won many awards, including the gold medal from the French research institute CNRS, and sharing the 2010 Wolf Prize in physics with Zeilinger and Clauser.
Aspect had been expected to win the Nobel Prize for years, while Chris Phillips, a physicist at Imperial College London, said “the prize was long overdue”.
“It’s one of the most deserved trophies we’ve had in ages,” he added.
“We’ve all been waiting for this for a long time! We are very proud,” says French Minister of Higher Education and Research Sylvie Retailleau, who knew Aspect from her time as a physicist.
“He’s one of those mentors in physics. An entire community works under his leadership these days,” said Retailleau, a former president of Paris-Saclay University.
Aspect is also a “tireless teacher” who gives acclaimed lectures, she added.
Former student Georges-Olivier Reymond, now head of the French start-up Pasqal working on the development of a quantum processor, thinks it’s “fantastic” that Aspect has won the Nobel Prize.
“Everything I’ve done in my career I owe to him,” said Reymond.
With his experiment, “Aspect delivered a feat that surprised us all,” Reymond said. “It was so different from what we were taught in school… it inspired generations of students.”
In addition to passing on his passion for physics to his students, Aspect is also a “bon vivant who will tell you all about his foie gras recipes,” according to Reymond.
“I can still hear him say, when I was only 20 years old… ‘you have to create quantum startups – it’s the future,’” Reymond said.
“He was right.”
Quantum entanglement: the ‘ghostly’ science behind physics Nobel
© 2022 AFP
Quote: Alain Aspect, Nobel Prize winner for quantum entanglement (2022, October 4), retrieved October 4, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-alain-aspect-nobel-winning-father-quantum.html
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