Three physicists – whose work challenged Einstein – won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics. They offer insight into the confounding weirdness of the subatomic world and point to the future application of quantum mechanics to encryption.
Even weirder than Einstein imagined
The winners* demonstrated that quantum mechanics is even weirder than Einstein believed. Their research, ironically, is the culmination of decades of efforts to disprove quantum theory – to no avail.
(*John Clauser, of J.F. Clauser and Associates in Walnut Creek, Calif.; Alain Aspect of the Institut d’Optique in Palaiseau, France; and Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna in Austria.)
Inspiration came from Einstein. Though one of the founders of quantum theory, he ultimately rejected it when he said
“God does not play dice” with the universe.
In the end, all three Nobel Prize winners accepted the validity of quantum mechanics.
But that doesn’t mean quantum mechanics isn’t deeply confounding. Quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said that anyone who wasn’t shocked by quantum theory cannot possibly understand it.
Underscoring the mystery, Dr. Clauser, in an interview with the Associated Press, said you can’t confine information to a closed volume “like a little box that sits on your desk,” though even he can’t say why.
Another baffling aspect of quantum mechanics is the “spooky action at a distance,” as Einstein described it. “Measuring one of a widely separated pair of particles could instantaneously change the results of measuring the other particle, even if it was light-years away,” as the New York Times reported.
This is known as quantum entanglement, which is the basis of the “burgeoning field” of quantum information, the Times said.
Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel Committee for Physics, noted that quantum information science has broad implications in areas like cryptography and quantum computing.
Quantum information science is a “vibrant and rapidly developing field,” Olsson said. “Its predictions have opened doors to another world, and it has also shaken the very foundation of how we interpret measurements,” she said.
Application to quantum cryptography
Entanglement is already being tested in cryptography and quantum computing.
“One of its first successes in cryptology is messages sent using entangled pairs, which can send cryptographic keys in a secure manner — any eavesdropping will destroy the entanglement, alerting the receiver that something is wrong,” the New York Times reported.
Quantum cryptography uses the principles of quantum mechanics to encrypt data. The best-known application of quantum cryptography is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), which uses quantum communication to establish a shared key between two parties without a third party learning anything about that key, even if the third party can eavesdrop, as explained here.
If the third party tries to crack the key, discrepancies will tip off the two communicating parties.
Bruno Couillard, CEO & CTO, Crypto4A Technologies, Inc., -- a company that Venafi works with in the area of crypto-agility and quantum-safe security -- said the Nobel Prize advances the push to tap the power of quantum computing.
“This crowning achievement bestowed on these quantum mechanic pioneers is one more example of humanity’s inexorable advances toward comprehending and harnessing the untapped computational power of the quantum mechanical realm,” Couillard said.
“Their seminal contributions helped form the foundation upon which the rapidly evolving quantum computing era is based upon, and their perseverance helped prove one of quantum mechanics’ more counter-intuitive (and controversial) theories”, Couillard added.