The 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to three scientists for their contributions to understanding quantum entanglement and advancing the field of quantum information. The prize honors Alain Aspect of the University of Paris-Saclay and the École Polytechnique, John F. Clauser of J.F. Clauser & Assoc., and Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna for developing experimental methods for probing entangled photons. The physicists’ work underpins quantum-based technologies such as quantum computing and quantum cryptography. The 10 million Swedish kronor prize (approximately $900,000) will be shared equally between the laureates.
Quantum entanglement refers to the way in which two particles are correlated, or tied, to each other even when the particles are separated by large distances. When one member of an entangled pair is affected—for example by irradiating it with a laser—the result determines what happens to the other particle. The concept of quantum correlation largely remained a theoretical curiosity until Aspect, Clauser, and Zeilinger developed and implemented laboratory methods for measuring the quirky quantum effect.
Those groundbreaking developments pushed quantum mechanics from a theoretical framework for understanding the behavior of particles to the basis of technologies, some of which are now being commercialized. As Eva Olsson, a physicist at Chalmers University of Technology and a member of the physics prize selection committee, noted at the Nobel Prize press conference today in Stockholm, “quantum information science is a vibrant and rapidly developing field,” with applications in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing, and sensing technology.” An example of these applications are the quantum computers being developed by IBM, which could give chemists information needed to develop new catalysts for clean energy, design high-temperature superconductors, and discover new drugs.
A lot of people have made important contributions to quantum science, making it the exciting topic it is today, says Yiwen Chu, a physicist and specialist in quantum computing at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich. But the achievements of this year’s prize winners “established the foundational aspects of our field and continue to motivate much of the research being done,” she said in an email. Chu added that the prize “emphasizes the link between curiosity-driven fundamental research and the pursuit of useful applications” and that there are still big challenges and unanswered questions in quantum science. “I hope this encourages more talented people to try to address them.”
At the press conference, Zeilinger said he was “extremely surprised” to receive the news. “I’m still kind of shocked,” he said, “but it’s a very positive shock.” He said he hopes the prize will encourage further study by young people and acknowledged the more than 100 students who have worked with him over the years.
This story was updated on Oct. 4, 2022, to include comments from Yiwen Chu.