Indiana University Bloomington

Quantum physicist and Nobel laureate David Wineland to present Konopinski lecture

  • March 3, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Since its inception at Indiana University in 1991, no single event has brought more Nobel laureates to the Bloomington campus than the Joseph and Sophia Konopinski Memorial Lecture in Physics. On March 11, that tradition continues when David Wineland becomes the 16th laureate in 24 years to deliver the lecture established by the late IU distinguished professor emeritus Emil J. Konopinski to honor his parents.

Wineland, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics for his ground-breaking work on individual quantum systems -- the study of how positively charged ions can be trapped, cooled and manipulated -- will be a must-see for students like IU sophomore Tom Dauer, a math and physics major at IU interested in quantum computation -- one of the most important applications of trapped ions.

“That’s why I’m so interested in Wineland’s work,” said the 20-year-old from Newburgh, Ind. “He took a lot of the first steps toward building a quantum computer, a device that could revolutionize many fields.”

Designed to take advantage of the intricacies of quantum mechanics, quantum computers could one day solve problems like breaking the best encryption codes that today’s classical computers find unmanageable. A basic principle in quantum mechanics is “quantum superposition,” or the idea that an object exists in all possible physical states simultaneously. And while a classical computer uses binary bits -- zeroes and ones -- a quantum computer uses quantum bits, or qubits, that are superpositions of zeroes and ones.

Wineland’s work took “the very first steps towards building a new type of superfast computer based on quantum physics. Perhaps the quantum computer will change our everyday lives in this century in the same radical way as the classical computer did in the last century,” his 2012 Nobel citation noted.

A physicist at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, Wineland is credited with work on using the strings of laser-cooled ions held in a trap for high-precision spectroscopy and frequency standards. The work led to the development of laser-cooled atomic clocks, the current state of the art in time and frequency standards; and his laser-cooled trapped ion technique was used to demonstrate an experimental clock based on a single mercury ion that was the most precise in the world.

He achieved the first demonstration of using lasers to cool ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules) to near absolute zero in 1978 and has built on that breakthrough with many experiments that represent the first or best in the world -- often both -- in using trapped laser-cooled ions to test theories in quantum physics and demonstrate crucial applications.

Since then his achievements have been just as remarkable: In 1995, he developed the first single-atom quantum logic gate, demonstrating the feasibility of processing information using quantum properties of ions. Three years later, he offered a demonstration of another basic tenet of quantum mechanics, that of entanglement, by proving that information is distributed simultaneously between two ions, a prerequisite for quantum computation. This phenomenon of entanglement, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, perturbed brilliant minds such as Einstein’s, but Wineland’s work, among others, showed that this is the way nature communicates in our microscopic world.   

In 2000, he demonstrated entanglement of four ions, proving in principle that quantum computation with ions can be scaled to the relatively large number of quantum gates needed for a practical quantum computer; and in 2004, he demonstrated the first example of quantum teleportation of information among massive particles, providing a potentially crucial method for efficient transfer of information within a large-scale quantum computer. A year later, his demonstration of a “quantum logic atomic clock” provided the world’s most precise atomic clock, one that would neither gain nor lose one second in about 4 billion years.

Wineland will visit the IU Bloomington campus March 11 and 12, speaking first at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, in Whittenberger Auditorium. That lecture, “Superposition, Entanglement and Raising Schrödinger’s Cat,” will be followed by an open reception at Indiana Memorial Union’s University Club. On Wednesday, March 12, he will provide the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Physics Department colloquium on the topic “Single-Atom Optical Clocks.”

Wineland received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1970. He has been a member of the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology since 1975, where he continues work as a group leader and NIST Fellow.

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Nobel laureate David Wineland

Nobel laureate David Wineland

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