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Nobel Prize in Physics: Seeing the Light 130

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the for-people-smarter-than-me dept.
lidden writes "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2005 has been awarded Roy J. Glauber "for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence". And John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch "for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique"."
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Nobel Prize in Physics: Seeing the Light

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  • by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:23AM (#13713568) Journal
    Quantum coherence? Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not, until curiosity kills the (Shrödinger's) cat???
  • by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:24AM (#13713583) Homepage Journal
    The ambiguity of light (wave and/or particle) has always made my head spin. To think that a bulb gives off light in "infinite" (lower limit time angle of tau) blows my mind.

    Affiliating light with quantum theory seems like a stretch as quantum theory answers seem deus ex machina to me. I'm sure "wiser" people give this discovery merit, but even the "advanced information" link is ambiguous.

    If we can now comb out light frequencies to within 15 digits of accuracy, it seems like we can increase bandwidth over laser optics by many orders of magnitude. The long term gain in communications bandwidth could be huge if the technique is feasible cheaply by industry.

    If this technique can somehow be utilized with the radio spectrum instead of light, I wonder if similar increases in data space could be realized. I never contemplated light to radio in the physical sense.
    • by marcus (1916) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:43AM (#13713749) Journal
      A fairly large part of physics and cosmology is mind blowing. That is why it is so interesting, at least to me. Forget quantum oddness, just consider some of the numbers. Try to get a real grip on things like 10^19 eV. The universe is truly, literally, awe inspiring.

      With radio we already have much more sophisticated modulation methods. Most "light band" modulation today is basically an automated, binary version of Morse Code, still effectively in the Stone Age. We are currently just barely able to "tune" a light transmitter and receiver. DWDM is nowhere near the spectral density of current radio technology. We cannot do anything with light approaching phase shift modulation, spread spectrum techniques, code division muxing, hell even plain old FM in the "light band" is currently out of reach. While lasers could be compared to classic PLLs, currently they are not even close to being as useful in frequency modulation and demodulation applications.
      • So what you are saying is that, inside of my fingernail, there could be a teeny-tiny universe?
      • Try to get a real grip on things like 10^19 eV.

        Easy. 10^19 eV are about 1.6 J. That's the kinetic energy of a 1 kg mass at a speed of about 1.79 m/s.
        • He should have been more specific. Try to get a real grip on things like protons with energy of ~10^19eV. Especially since the theory predicts a mean free path that's way too short for any sources to reach us at that energy level (nothing fitting the energy bill that we know of close enough to Earth) Not to mention the question of what kind of sources would accelerate them to such energies.

          It's all a question of perspective ;-)
        • Busy keeping things hot and cold?

          Since it appears we can speak the same language, I'll admit that I had just finished reading about high energy cosmic rays. I still had the thoughts, but failed to bring enough of the context over.

          For more, see this [amazon.com] pair of books.

          Mind boggling.

          • I already guessed you were thinking of some high-energy particles (I'm physicist, therefore I know in which fields high eV units are used). However, I like to put things into perspective. Yes, 10^19 eV sounds enourmous, but you just have to rewrite it in other units to change that. Now, as energy of a single particle, it's of course incredibly high, but the point is, you really have to look at the system, not at the value in isolation.

            An elementary particle which has the same energy as a 1 kg mass at about
      • by geeber (520231)
        With radio we already have much more sophisticated modulation methods. Most "light band" modulation today is basically an automated, binary version of Morse Code, still effectively in the Stone Age

        And yet light wins out when it comes to raw transmission bandwidth. The same thing that makes it tough to modulate - i.e. it's high frequency, is what makes it attractive in terms of big fat pipes.
      • by Alomex (148003) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:38PM (#13714254) Homepage
        To quote Richard Feynman:

        "It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama."
        • "It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama."

          The other possibility is that this whole Universe is a stage for a much larger drama which is not a
          • And yet another possibility is that it IS the stage for the drama, but we're only still in the very beginning of the very first line of dialogue from the very first scene. For all we know, the drama could be set to unfold across the universe in later times (later on a cosmological scale). It's not for us to know, but it does make an interesting conversation topic ;)
        • Not unless we were supposed to conclude something about God from the grandeur of the universe...
      • "We cannot do anything with light approaching phase shift modulation, spread spectrum techniques"

        Really? Google these terms and see what you get. PSM of Lasers can certainly be done. And I'll wager you a good deal of $$$ that there is quite extensive research in all of these areas in the Defense industry and telecom. If they can filter comb light in frequency [part of the reason they won the Nobel] then spread spectrum is possible. Possible is NOT equal practical. Practical has to be low cost and sturdy, e
      • COngratulations on not realisng that the fundamental properties of a laser do not make any kind of modulation viable.

        "Complex" Modulation (eg FM, Spread Spectrum, OFDM) requires the ability to work with multiple frequencies, a laser, by the very physical nature of its design and fundamental principles is not capable of this. It is designed to produce a Monochromatic pulse of coherent photons (thats a bunch of photons of the same frequency and all in the same phase) you cannot "modulate" a laser. Im aware th
      • Try to get a real grip on things like 10^19 eV

        You mean half a joule? Drop a can of coke from four inches to experience this awe-inspiring energy.

      • Bad news rf fans, AM, FM, PM, QAM, and noise modulation technologies as well as Crosscorrelation and autocorrelation are all available in the optical domain. The developement of these techniques over the past thirty to fourty years is what a great deal of the research in quantum optics and electro-optics fields has been all about. Did I mention heterdyne and homodyne beam detection or frequency mixing or doubling?
    • Affiliating light with quantum theory seems like a stretch as quantum theory answers seem deus ex machina to me.

      Quantum theory pretty much came out of studying light. Planck's constant, one of the defining characteristics of quantum theory was a result of Planck studying blackbody radiation. Same kind of radiation emmitted from a light bulb, just at a lower energy.

      And the measurement process, which almost no one is in agreement about, is about the only thing in the theory that has elements of deus ex m
    • Here's what I don't get. The article states that a time measurement precision within the range of 1 part in 10^18 is now (soon) possible and will allow 'GPS and other things' to become more accurate. But 1 in 10^18 is a SINGLE ATTOSECOND per second!!! This is equivalent to something like measuring time to a precision of one second in a time period longer than the current age of the universe! How do you keep accurate time on a clock that precise? Simply wheeling it down the hall would be enough to intorduce
      • Yes, but don't forget that QM measurements don't negate relativity - this is the ultimate example of "to thine own self be true". Yes, wheeling it down the hall will change its timing relative to everything else that is not moving the same way. So as far as useful measurements go, anything which is measuring the device will have to be moving with it - which includes any "stationary" object on the entire earth, practically speaking. (Especially since they won't be moving it down the hall for that exact re
        • What's probably more useful, however, is that general relativity is fairly well understood from a mathematical standpoint. Id est, it is relatively simple (no pun intended) to calculate the time/space compression impact on two bodies whose relative speeds are known.

          I think you're confused with special relativity, the theory that describes the effect of speed differences on measurements and the equivalence between mass and energy. It combines quite well with quantum mechanics. General relativity - about sp

        • "Yes, but don't forget that QM measurements don't negate relativity"

          It's not supposed to, but bear in mind that entanglement is (apparently) a violation of causality, which is the essence of relativity.

          If I have 2 spin 1/2 particles, spaced 20,000 light-years apart, their kets still superpose instantaneously (with no informational lag when I make one measurement at one point in space), so that's transmitting information superluminally. There's demonstrations that only noise can be transferred this way,
      • Well, this is where the article glosses over a lot of difficulties. At these levels of precision, measuring the accuracy is tough, and an active area of research is just trying to send frequency standards down optical fibers without screwing them up.

        When you try to get to one part in 10^18 relativistic effects due to the vibration of the optical table come into play. Forget about putting such a system on a satellite!
    • If we can now comb out light frequencies to within 15 digits of accuracy, it seems like we can increase bandwidth over laser optics by many orders of magnitude. The long term gain in communications bandwidth could be huge if the technique is feasible cheaply by industry.

      It is unlikely right now that optical comb techniques will be applied to optical communications. The precision that these guys go for far exceeds anything needed in fiber communications.

      That is not to say that accurate clocks aren't needed
    • The ambiguity of light (wave and/or particle) has always made my head spin.

      No need to be confused. The simple experimental fact is that light is neither a wave nor a particle. We just don't have a model for what it really 'is'.

      Of course, under certain conditions you won't be far wrong if you think if it as a wave/a particle.
    • Since this work was done in 1963, we can say with confidence that it led to great advances in communications and storage, and we're using them already. The Nobel Prize, especially in Physics, is entirely at the other end of the spectrum from a lot of the speculative stories on slashdot; it's often given in recognition of the lasting significance of work that's already made a difference.

      Thinking of light as ambiguous between a wave and a particle is a bit misguided; it's neither a wave nor a particle, but so
      • It's not that light sometimes acts like a wave and sometimes like a particle; light always acts in a consistent fashion, which has some features like waves, some like particles, and some unlike anything else.

        True. More specifically, light and elementary particles such as electrons propagate as waves, but interact as particles. Still, light behaves more like waves and massive particles more like particles. It is rather hard to create a coherent particle wave consisting of multiple massive particles; any in

    • "f we can now comb out light frequencies to within 15 digits of accuracy, it seems like we can increase bandwidth over laser optics by many orders of magnitude. The long term gain in communications bandwidth could be huge if the technique is feasible cheaply by industry."

      Heisenberg's uncertainty principle comes to mind. If you wanna have sharper frequency peaks, you gotta measure longer. This could be a problem.
    • 'To think that a bulb gives off light in "infinite" (lower limit time angle of tau) blows my mind.'

      What the frick are you talking about?

      No, seriously. I mean this as a physicist: the above statement was completely incoherent.

      Oh well, if your mind was blown I guess I can't blame you.
    • Affiliating light with quantum theory seems like a stretch as quantum theory answers seem deus ex machina to me.

      You probably don't mean deus ex machina [wikipedia.org], really, when you make the point that quantum theory seems forced. You're right -- the particles in quantum theory are not actually particles, they're quantizations that seek to capture the real-world effects of fluctuating energy fields by concentrating on the planck space with the maximum field energy at a given planck time. The only reason to do this

  • by JustASlashDotGuy (905444) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:24AM (#13713589)
    First, we have the sonic toothbrush, and now we have the optical frequency comb!

    I can't wait to see what the future holds for us next!

  • by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:25AM (#13713595) Homepage Journal
    It took the Nobel committee 42 years to decide that Glauber's work in quantum theory was worthy of their prize. Now that's what I call uncertainty.
    • 42 years you say?

      Maybe it wasn't so uncertain... maybe it was always the answer...
      • I'm still wondering about the "Insightful" moderation.

        Dear mods : it was a play on the word "Uncertainty". That's all.
        He worked in quantum mechanics (uncertainty in the sense that two non-communting operators cannot be simultaneously measured exactly).

        They took a long time (uncertainty in the sense of not being able to make your mind up).

        That's it. It's barely Informative, and it's certainly not Insightful. It may be Funny, depending on whether your sense of humour is as childish as mine.

        Strewth.
      • It's also amazing how long they took to award Hänsch, and then only 1/4th of the prize - Hänsch's discovered the monochromatic, tunable dye laser (essential to almost all laser spectroscopy application, at least until the semiconductor laser became usable, and still unparalleled in the high power range), saturation and polarization spectroscopy (techniques which allow for Doppler-free spectroscopy; again, essential techniques used in almost any laboratory where lasers are pointed at atoms), laser
    • It took the Nobel committee 42 years to decide that Glauber's work in quantum theory was worthy of their prize. Now that's what I call uncertainty.

      At the same time, because the uncertainty in the timing of the award is very large, the amount of money involved can be known very precisely!
    • Re:Took their time (Score:3, Insightful)

      by darkmeridian (119044)
      It took the Nobel committee 42 years to decide that Glauber's work in quantum theory was worthy of their prize. Now that's what I call uncertainty.

      The Nobel Committee does not want to impugn the integrity of the Prize by doling it out for science that does not pan out. They have to wait until the research is established to some degree. What would happen to the Prize if someone won for cold fusion? The Nobel Prize would be a joke.

      • Re:Took their time (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Are you kidding? Glauber should have won this twenty years ago. His work on coherent states is the bedrock of modern quantum optics. For example, without coherent states, nobody would understand squeezed states. And for example, coherent states allow us to understand why the classical optics approximation works so well. I read his papers over and over in my Ph.D. research, and I'm shocked it's taken so long.
      • The (original) purpose of Nobel Prize was to encourage young gifted scientists, to give them recognition necessary to get funding for research. Obviously now it's just a sort of a medal for past achievement and adds absolutely nothing to science TODAY.
        • Re:Took their time (Score:3, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          The (original) purpose of Nobel Prize was to encourage young gifted scientists, to give them recognition necessary to get funding for research. Obviously now it's just a sort of a medal for past achievement and adds absolutely nothing to science TODAY.

          Umm... No. It's always been a medal for achievement, to quote from Alfred Nobel's will;

          The whole of my remaining realisable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitut

      • The Nobel Committee does not want to impugn the integrity of the Prize by doling it out for science that does not pan out

        Don't be so sure about that: Egaz Moniz [psychosurgery.org] won the prize in 1949 for the invention of the lobotomy.
    • That's because they can give only 1 prize a year, and there are lots of great people deserving one. They're already splitting it.
  • Particles (Score:3, Funny)

    by xgamer04 (248962) <.xgamer04. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:25AM (#13713599)
    I believe that the number of particles physicists currently use is not enough. Therefore I am now creating the foo-on, bar-on, and baz-on. Use 'em however ya like. You can send the Nobel stuff anytime.
    • You can add them to the theory of quantum bogodynamics [catb.org].
    • You need to use SCIgen [mit.edu] to generate a research paper with graphs, equations and everything, then try submitting it to a conference. Who knows you may get to give a lecture on your new theory.

    • I think it was Fermi who said, "If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist."

      Hell, if a giant like Fermi had trouble, who am I, a lowly physics undergrad, to think that _I_ can remember them all.
      • Re:Particles (Score:2, Informative)

        Fermi also said that at a time when we were constantly discovering new mesons and baryons and QCD had not yet been developed to put it all together yet.

        These days we know that mesons are baryons are not fundamental. Remembering the names of the fundamental particles really isn't that hard and it's worth your time:

        Six kinds of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, top, bottom
        Six kinds of leptons: electron, muon, tau, electron neutrino, muon neutrino, tau neutrino
        Force carriers: photon, W+, W-, Z0, gluon

        That's i
        • Fermi also said that at a time when we were constantly discovering new mesons and baryons

          I think you meant to say inventing here.
    • Baz-ons might be confused with boz-ons. Oh, and nobel prizes are regularly awarded post-humously. I doubt you can wait that long.
  • PhysOrg [physorg.com] has a pretty good rundown of the physics involved in the discoveries. Worth a look...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:27AM (#13713613)
    There are already three articles about those outstanding scientists in the english wikipedia at [[Roy J. Glauber]] [wikipedia.org], [[John L. Hall]] [wikipedia.org] and [[Theodor W. Hänsch]] [wikipedia.org].

    The German wikipedia and the Indonesian one has also three articles. Some of them are still to be considered stubs.

    I would like you to invite to translate them into other languages (oops, I forgot Esperanto, there are already articles about them) and to contribute to those articles. We need freely licensed pictures of them and more details about their CV and their work.

    Thanks you very much in advance.
  • by RoverDaddy (869116) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:34AM (#13713682) Homepage
    The inventor of the comb-over patented [uspto.gov] his work in 1977, and won the igNobel prize [improbable.com] last year. I'm sure the comb-over technique operates in an optical frequency range in order to be effective.
  • Wikipedia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frankie70 (803801) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @11:35AM (#13713691)
    I searched for Glauber & this is what I found.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glauber [wikipedia.org]

    If this guy is good enough to win the Nobel, how come
    he isn't in Wikipedia?
  • it should of been awarded to Roy G. Biv "for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence".
  • I have missed out for yet ANOTHER year on physics prize. I think I will just re-train and become an economist or peace campaigner or something.
  • The Nobel site clearly shows via pie-chart icons that each of the three winners only gets a fraction of that little medal. I hope they seriously do cut it and mail them the parts, because to give each a medal would be mathematically dishonest at best.

    I also hope jealous laureates fight one another to gain their medal-pieces and complete the artifact Triforce-style. Mostly because the mental image amuses me.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Nobel Prize in Physics 2005 has been awarded Roy J. Glauber...

    Congratulations Nobel Prize in Physics 2005. Be on guard though. It may try to use you as currency.
  • ... how finely do they divide the prizes?

    In this case, they awarded half to Glauber for one piece of work and a quarter each to Hall and Haensch for a completely different piece of work. Can they recognize 5 different significant advances in the same year if they wish to?

    And how many people can share a portion of a prize for a given piece of work? If 18 people participate in developing a quantum theory of Slashdot submission which ultimately ends up explaining life, the universe, and everything, do al
    • A maximum of 3 people can get the prize in each field. And they have to be alive when they are awarded the prize.

      IIRC, there were a few times when the peace prize was awarded to the head of the UN the work of the whole UN organization.

      • But, on the other hand, the peace prize has some special provisions for organizations. The head of an academic institution won't get the scientific prizes, no matter what the combined results from the school are.
  • Mitch: This is coherent light.
    Mitch's dad: Oh, so it talks.
  • From a Student (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThinkComp (514335) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:23PM (#13714117)
    I was an undergraduate student in one of Professor Glauber's courses at Harvard two years ago, and though I'm certainly no specialist on light or physics, I really enjoyed his course (The Nature of Light and Matter). It's one of the many Core Curriculum courses at Harvard, but it's taught by one of the few professors there worthy of calling himself a teacher. He has a great sense of humor. I'm glad someone who deserves some credit was able to earn it.
    • Re:From a Student (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bigpat (158134)
      I took Professor Glauber's "Waves Particles and the Structure of Matter" through the Harvard Extension School as a high school senior over a decade ago.

      It was probably the best course I have ever taken in any subject, but certainly out of my physics classes I will always remember it very fondly for how he was able to combine very illustrative descriptions of theory with very good physical demonstrations.

      Somewhat sadly, I eventually took up work in the computer field rather than stick with physics. So I can
  • Germany, the traditional powerhouse in physics and America shared this 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics. The interesting thing is the Glauber, the american scientist, was awarded 1/2 of the prize money (approx. 1.1 Million Euro), while Hänsch, from Germany, and Hall, from America, had to share the other half.

    Hall, 71, of Colorado University and Hänsch, 63, of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics and Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University, share the other half of the prize "for their contribution
    • The interesting thing is the Glauber, the american scientist, was awarded 1/2 of the prize money (approx. 1.1 Million Euro), while Hänsch, from Germany, and Hall, from America, had to share the other half.
      That's because they wanted to award equal shares for theoretical and experimental physics. Hall & Haensch are experimentalists.
  • Go JILA! (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by TheMatt (541854)
    As a grad student currently at JILA I'd like to say "Congratulations" to Jan Hall for his work on the frequency comb. It's been a good ride for JILA during my * ahem * years of graduate work here. Three Nobels (among many other awards) for Hall, Wieman, and Cornell, and even more accolades for Debbie Jin, Kapteyn and Murnane... It's been an honor to be able to talk, heck, be in the same building with these people.
  • Interesting timing. Few days earlier, in a debate with some Quantum Opticians, I posted in sci.physics.research several messages criticizing Roy Glauber and his theory of coherence. The last post was at: sci.physics.research thread on Roy Glauber's coherence theory. [google.com]
  • I haven't bothered to read the documents, but could this change the way sensors are designed? Currently, the sensor basically turn photons into electric current. If we could we simple mesure the wavelength and intensity, this could open the way up for radical new designs/implementations, right? Or am I just talking out of my ass here?

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