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Wednesday, October 05, 2005


The Nobel Prize in physics this year has gone to genuinely deserving recipients with no controversy on the horizon. Roy Glauber gets 50% for his work on quantum optics, he is a very clever man even for an old white dude. Hall and Hänsch get the other half for work on laser spectroscopy, also both very bright and productive chaps. Here's the official blurb
Just like radio waves, light is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Maxwell described this in the 1850s. His theory has been utilised in modern communication technology based on transmitters and receivers: mobile telephones, television and radio. If a receiver or a detector is to register light, it must be able to absorb the radiation energy and forward the signal. This energy occurs in packets called quanta and a hundred years ago Einstein was able to show how the absorption of a quantum (a photon) leads to the release of a photoelectron. It is these indirect photoelectrons that are registered in the apparatuses when photons are absorbed.

Thus light exhibits a double nature – it can be considered both as waves and as a stream of particles. Roy Glauber has established the basis of Quantum Optics, in which quantum theory encompasses the field of optics. He could explain the fundamental differences between hot sources of light such as light bulbs, with a mixture of frequencies and phases, and lasers which give a specific frequency and phase.

The important contributions by John Hall and Theodor Hänsch have made it possible to measure frequencies with an accuracy of fifteen digits. Lasers with extremely sharp colours can now be constructed and with the frequency comb technique precise readings can be made of light of all colours. This technique makes it possible to carry out studies of, for example, the stability of the constants of nature over time and to develop extremely accurate clocks and improved GPS technology.
Which makes their contributions sound rather boring really, but in reality quantum optics is a hugely important field and being able to measure an optical frequency to 15 digits is very impressive.

Can't wait to see the literature and peace prizes...
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Posted by Chefen | 10/05/2005 06:47:00 pm