The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 9, 2012

Frenchman, American win Nobel for quantum physics

(Continued)

"I was in the street and passing a bench so I was able to sit down," Haroche told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone. "It's very overwhelming."

He said his work in the realm of quantum physics could ultimately lead to unimaginably fast computers.

"You can do things which are prohibited by the laws of classical physics," he told The Associated Press.

Haroche also said quantum research could help make GPS navigating systems more accurate.

Christopher Monroe, who does similar work at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, said the awarding of the prize to the two men "is not a big surprise to me ... It was sort of obvious that they were a package."

Monroe said that thanks to the bizarre properties of the quantum world, when he and Wineland worked together in the 1990s, they were able to put a single atom in two places simultaneously.

At that time, it wasn't clear that trapping single atoms could help pave the way to superfast quantum computers, he said. That whole field "just fell into our laps,'" Monroe said.

In an ordinary computer, information is represented in bits, each of which is either a zero or a one. But in a quantum computer, an individual particle can essentially represent a zero and a one at the same time. If scientists can make such particles work together, certain kinds of calculations could be done with blazing speed.

One example is the factoring, the process of discovering what numbers can be multiplied together to produce a given number. That has implications for breaking codes, Monroe said.

Quantum computers could radically change people's lives in the way that classical computers did last century, but a full-scale quantum computer is still decades away, the Nobel judges said.

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