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Nobel Laureate Lecture by Prof Serge Haroche

The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay organized a Nobel Laureate Lecture on "The connection between blue sky research and innovation" by Prof. Serge Haroche, Nobel Laureate in Physics 2012 on February 3, 2018.

Below is a brief abstract:

Since the dawn of modern science, fundamental discoveries motivated by curiosity have led to the development of new tools, which in turn have increased our ability to investigate nature, leading to further discoveries. Basic science and technology have always progressed together. Quantum physics provides an illustration of this complementarity. It was born to answer fundamental questions about the microscopic world, without any specific application in mind. And yet, after the laws ruling the behavior of electrons, atoms and photons have been uncovered, technologies exploiting these rules have emerged, which would have astonished the founding fathers of the theory. Computers, lasers, atomic clocks, magnetic resonance imaging machines have been invented, improving our means to calculate, to store information and to communicate. These devices, which have revolutionized our lives, have also been essential to push basic science further. The laser for instance is a tool used to cool, trap and to control single atoms in experiments exploring in depth the strange laws of quantum theory such as state superposition and entanglement. Similarly, advances in nanotechnology have made it possible to build artificial structures behaving like atoms and exhibiting the same strange effects. Studying how these systems interact with each other and with light is basic science. At the same time, these studies let us envision a second quantum revolution in technology, where the strangeness of quantum physics would be directly used to achieve tasks that present machines are unable to accomplish in the fields of computation,communication or metrology. Among these devices, the quantum computer is certainly the most popular one. It would exploit the quantum strangeness of logical gates being at the same time open and closed in order to compute much faster than today’s machines. Its realization, still far from certain, would require further breakthroughs in basic science. And, as history is teaching us, unexpected inventions are bound to emerge from the fundamental knowledge that quantum physicists are now acquiring in their laboratories.

About the speaker :

Serge Haroche was born in 1944 in Casablanca. He graduated from Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), receiving his doctorate from Paris VI University in 1971 (thesis advisor: Claude Cohen-Tannoudji). After a postdoctoral visit to Stanford University in the laboratory of Arthur Schawlow (1972-73), he became full professor at Paris VI University in 1975, a position he held until 2001, when he was appointed Professor at Collège de France (in the chair of quantum physics). He has been part time professor at Yale University (1984-1993), member of Institut Universitaire de France (1991-2000) and chairman of the ENS Department of Physics (1994-2000). In September 2012, he has been appointed “Administrateur du Collège de France” (equivalent to President of this institution), a position he held until September 2015. Since then, he is Professor Emeritus at Collège de France. Serge Haroche’s research has mostly taken place in the laboratory Kastler Brossel at ENS. His main research activities have been in quantum optics and quantum information science. He has made important contributions to Cavity Quantum Electrodynamics (Cavity QED), the domain of quantum optics which studies the behaviour of atoms interacting strongly with the field confined in a high-Q cavity, a box made of highly reflecting mirrors. An atom-photon system isolated from the outside world by metallic walls realizes a very simple experimental model which Serge Haroche has used to test fundamental concepts of quantum physics such as state superposition, entanglement, complementarity and decoherence. Some of these experiments are actual realizations in the laboratory of the “thought experiments” imagined by the founding fathers of quantum mechanics. Serge Haroche’s main achievements in cavity QED include the observation of single atom spontaneous emission enhancement in a cavity (1983), the direct monitoring of the decoherence of mesoscopic superpositions of states (so-called Schrödinger cat states) (1996) and the quantum-non- demolition counting of photons (2007). By manipulating atoms and photons in high-Q cavities, he has also demonstrated elementary steps of quantum information procedures such as the generation of atom-atom and atom-photon entanglement (1997) and the  operation of quantum logic gates involving photons and atoms as “quantum bits” (1999). Serge Haroche has received many prizes and awards, culminating in the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics, shared with David Wineland. He is a member of the French and European Academies of Sciences. He is a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the Brazilian, Colombian, Russian and Moroccan Academies of Sciences. He is Doctor Honoris Causa of the Weizmann Institute and of the Universities of Montreal, Patras, Strathclyde and Bar Ilan.