David J. Wineland, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will share the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics for "experimental realization of the first device that performs elementary computer-logic operations using the quantum properties of individual atoms."
The Franklin medals, among the most prestigious awards for achievements in science and technology, were announced by The Franklin Institute this week. Wineland will share the physics medal with two theorists who are also pioneers of quantum computing: J. Ignacio Cirac of the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Germany and Peter Zoller of the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
Quantum computers are a potentially powerful future technology that would harness the unusual rules of the submicroscopic quantum world to solve certain problems, such as breaking today's most widely used data encryption codes, that are intractable using today's computers. In 1995, Wineland's research group demonstrated the first "universal quantum logic gate" using a single trapped ion (charged atom), an experiment proposed earlier that year by Cirac and Zoller. A logic gate is the equivalent of a switch in a conventional computer; a universal gate can be programmed to perform any operation on quantum bits of information. The experiment demonstrated the feasibility of processing information using quantum properties of ions and is regarded as the key step toward the development of a future quantum computer.
Since that seminal 1995 experiment, Wineland's group has demonstrated a number of other "firsts" in experimental quantum computing, including the first basic building blocks for a quantum computer based on trapped ions, the first "entanglement" of ions (a prerequisite for quantum computing), the first quantum teleportation of information in matter (concurrently with an experimental group in Innsbruck), and the first robust error-correction scheme. This year Wineland's group demonstrated sustained quantum information processing.
Dating back to 1824, The Franklin Institute Awards identify "individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened our understanding of the universe." The 2010 medals will be formally presented in a ceremony in Philadelphia, Pa., April 2010. For more, see http://www.fi.edu/franklinawards/.