By James Dacey
So another year goes by and we have two new Nobel physics laureates who join the pantheon of scientific idols. Just in case you have been confined in the Utah desert in some kind of Mars-simulation experiment for the past couple of days, this year’s prize went to Serge Haroche and David Wineland for their nifty experimental work on trapping and manipulating quantum systems.
What do you make of the choice? Let us know by visiting our Facebook page and taking part in our poll.
In truth, the decision of the Nobel committee has proved largely uncontroversial in the physics community, with tributes to the pair flying in from all quarters. Among the congratulators was Sir Peter Knight, president of the UK Institute of Physics, who hailed Haroche and Wineland for bringing “tremendous advances in our understanding of quantum entanglement, with beautiful experiments to show how atomic systems can be manipulated to exhibit the most extraordinary coherence properties”.
The only murmuring of a controversy is the suggestion that the Caltech researcher Jeff Kimble was overlooked as a third recipient of the prize. Kimble was one of the pioneers of cavity quantum electrodynamics (CQED) – a technique whereby the properties of an atom are controlled by placing it in an optical or microwave cavity. It was for developing the field of CQED that Haroche won his half of this year’s prize.
Interestingly, there has been no official congratulation from CERN on either its homepage or Twitter feed. Some people, including the editor of physicsworld.com Hamish Johnston, had argued that the confirmed discovery of a new boson at the LHC was enough to secure this year’s Nobel prize. That was also the sentiment of Physics World readers who took part in last week’s poll, with 63% of them selecting the discovery of the Higgs boson as their choice for the prize.
In fairness, though, Wineland and Haroche’s work on quantum optics was not one of the options in our poll. In customary style, the Nobel committee managed to identify a perfectly sensible choice of winner that had not been widely predicted beforehand.
So let us know what you think of this year’s prize by taking part in this week’s poll.