Americans Roy J Glauber and John L Hall as well as German Theodor W Haensch won the 2005 Nobel Physics Prize for groundbreaking work on understanding light, a quest as old as humanity itself, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday.
”As long as humans have populated the Earth, we have been fascinated by optical phenomena and gradually unravelled the nature of light,” the academy said. ”With the aid of light, we can orient ourselves in our daily lives or observe the most distant galaxies of the universe.”
Optics has become the tool of the physicist dealing with light and Glauber, an 80-year-old physics professor at Harvard University, took half the Nobel Prize for establishing the basis of quantum optics, which explains the fundamental difference between sources of light such as light bulbs and lasers, it said.
Glauber, who was on the staff of the Manhattan Project that developed the nuclear bomb for the United States during World War II, has been at Harvard since 1976 and a visiting scientist in several countries, including Switzerland, Denmark and France.
Hall and Haensch shared the other half for advancing the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, a field that opens the way to the next generation of global positioning system (GPS) navigation and ultra-precise atomic clocks.
”Lasers with extremely sharp colours can now be constructed,” the academy said of the work of Hall (71) and Haensch (63).
Hall works at the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Haensch is a physics professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich, Germany, and runs the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Quantenoptik in Garching.
Their work made it possible to develop ”extremely accurate clocks” and improve GPS navigation for anything from car and boat trips to distant journeys through space, the academy said.
How light emitted by a candle differs from the beam produced by a laser in a CD player, or how the already stunning accuracy of atomic clocks could be improved, were among questions this year’s laureates had tackled successfully, the academy said.
Glauber’s pioneering work on applying quantum physics to optical phenomena is more than four decades old, being first reported in 1963.
The landmark development by Hall and Haensch of the so-called optical frequency comb technique is much more recent, dating from the late 1990s, and sheds new light on the difference between matter and anti-matter, as well as allowing to measure time with unsurpassed precision.
The 2005 prize comes exactly a century after Albert Einstein’s ”annus mirabilis” — the miracle year in which the German-born genius wrote papers that smashed barriers to knowledge about the physical universe and reshaped our perception of it.
Among Einstein’s achievements was groundbreaking work on the nature of light, a foundation on which all three of this year’s Nobel winners built their work.
Light was first described in the mid-19th century as a form of waves.
Einstein, in his theory of the so-called photo-electric effect, also identified light as ”lumpy” form, made of particles of energy called photons. He won the 1921 Nobel Prize for this.
The 2005 laureates will receive a gold medal and share a cheque for 10-million Swedish kronor ($1,3-million) at the formal prize ceremony held, as tradition dictates, on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize’s creator, Alfred Nobel.
On Monday, the Nobel Medicine Prize went to Australian research duo Barry J Marshall and J Robin Warren for their pioneering 1982 discovery that ulcers are caused by bacteria, and not stress and lifestyle as previously thought, and are therefore best treated with antibiotics.
The chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday and the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize is scheduled for October 10, while the date for the literature prize has yet to be announced but it is traditionally on Thursday. — Sapa-AFP