29 January, 2009
Ignacio Cirac (Manresa, 1965) and Peter Zoller (Austria, 1952) are regarded as the theoretical physicists of most influence in the areas of cold atoms, quantum optics and quantum information. For more than a decade, their work has broken new ground and opened up new experimental opportunities. At the core of their research is the use of the microscopic world to build quantum computers and communication systems.
“Both men have formulated new theoretical insights and inspired experiments from quantum simulation to engineering in systems ranging from atoms and ions to condensed matter”
Their first major theoretical contribution, dating from 1995, was the description of a theoretical model for a quantum computer. They based their conjectures on what are known as ion traps, in which electrically charged and cooled atoms are trapped by an electric field and manipulated with lasers. Today, this technique still holds out the best promise for quantum computation. In fact some small-scale prototypes of quantum computers have already been built based on the ion trap idea. In the last few years, work done at numerous laboratories has confirmed Cirac and Zoller’s theoretical predictions.
Peter Zoller greeted the news as “a great honor and a huge recognition for our area of work. It has been amazing to observe how this field has grown in the past ten years and how our expectations are little by little being borne out”. For this investigator, sharing the prize with his one-time collaborator, Ignacio Cirac, “is an added pleasure, since a lot of this work has been done together”.
The Spanish researcher declared himself “especially honored because the award distinguishes the advances being made in an especially dynamic field”. Cirac also chose to emphasize “the importance of basic science, which is where tomorrow’s applications are born”.
Fundamental work in quantum information
According to the jury’s citation, Cirac and Zoller earned this award “for their fundamental work on quantum information science. Both men have formulated new theoretical insights and inspired experiments from quantum simulation to engineering in systems ranging from atoms and ions to condensed matter”.
The jury in this inaugural edition of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, Basic Sciences category, was chaired by Theodor W. Hänsch, the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics; nanoscientists Hongkun Park of Harvard University and Sandip Tiwari of Cornell University; Douglas Abraham from the University of Oxford; Martin Quack of ETH Zurich; and Gerardo Delgado of the Spanish National Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).