Newly-minted Nobel physics laureates David Wineland and Serge Haroche have been hailed for bringing the conceptual realm of quantum mechanics a giant step closer to the real world.
Both aged 68, the American and French physicists each has a long list of accolades to his name for
pioneering techniques in controlling and studying individual sub-atomic particles in strange and fragile quantum states.
Wineland was part of a team which first isolated a single electron in 1973.
He then developed a method of using lasers to cool ions (electrically-charged atoms or molecules) to near absolute zero -- a feat he first demonstrated in 1978 in order to test quantum theories in the lab.
His work has allowed major advances in the field of quantum computing, though Wineland cautioned on Tuesday such a super-computer was "a long, long way" off.
French physician Serge Haroche, right, and his aide Igor Dotsenko in Paris. AP photo
"I think many of us feel that it will eventually happen," he said in a pre-dawn phone interview recorded and posted on the Nobel committee website.
"It is primarily a matter of controlling these systems better and better."
For his part, Haroche developed a way to trap and study photons, which are particles of light -- work that is also hoped will find application in the creation of much more efficient computers.
"It is practically impossible to explain using terms from everyday language," the Frenchman said of his research in a 2009 interview with the online University Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC) newsletter.
Wineland obtained his PhD in physics from Harvard University in 1970.
He has worked at the US government's National Institute of Standards and Technology since 1975, and has been the project leader of its Ion Storage Group since 1979.
His work has earned Wineland several prizes from the American Physical Society, America's National Medal of Science in 2008, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in physics in 2010.
"I was sleeping and my wife got the call and woke me up," the American said from his home in Boulder, Colorado, calling the Nobel announcement "a wonderful surprise, of course."
Haroche has worked at several French institutions including the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and has taught at Yale University.
He was awarded the CNRS' gold medal in 2009 and is an officer of the French Legion of Honour -- the country's highest accolade.
"It's fairly overwhelming," he said of Tuesday's award.
"I was in the street, passing near a bench, and was able to sit down immediately," he told the Nobel committee by telephone. "I think we will have champagne."
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