Saturday, February 18, 2006

2005 Physics Nobel Prizes

Quantum Optics

The Nobel Prize for physics this year has been announced. Half the prize was awarded to Roy Glauber of Harvard for his work on the "quantum theory of optical coherence." The other half of the prize was shared evenly by John Hall (of JILA/NIST in Colorado) and Theodor W. Hansch (of Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik Garching, Germany and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, Germany) "for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique."

I am especially excited by Professor Glauber's award - it breaks the very long spell since a Harvard Physicist won the Nobel Prize. I am also excited because I used to work in a field tangentially related to the prize winners'.

Roy Glauber is responsible for the "coherent state" which will be familiar to most of you who've taken a course in quantum physics. The coherent state is a representation of coherent light (like the output of a laser - all the waves oscillating together) in quantum mechanics. This state is very well used in quantum optics research (my old field when I was at Queensland University, before I moved to Harvard and Dabbled in Biophysics and most recently Climate Physics). I never worked with Roy, but he sat in on the quantum optics class given by Misha Lukin in the fall of 2001 which I took, and we chatted from time to time.

I also referenced Ted Hansch in my one published paper on quantum optics - this is the first time people I've known, and referenced, have won the Nobel prize (I did meet 2000 winner Bill Phillips after he won).

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