12:27 p.m., May 28, 2010----On April 29 in Philadelphia, the University of Delaware joined The Franklin Institute in co-sponsoring a symposium in honor of the winners of the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics -- J. Ignacio Cirac from the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics; David Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Peter Zoller from the University of Innsbruck.
The scientists received the awards “for their theoretical proposal and experimental realization of the first device that performs elementary computer-logic operations using the quantum properties of individual atoms.”
Krzysztof Szalewicz, professor of physics and astronomy at UD, organized the symposium on quantum computing held at the University of Pennsylvania in the scientists' honor. A member of the Franklin Institute's Committee on Science and Arts, Szalewicz was the “prosecutor” of the case that resulted in the scientists' selection for the awards. The committee selects candidates from all over the world in an extensive process aimed at recognizing those scientists and engineers “who lead their fields, expand knowledge, challenge standards, and serve humanity.”
As described on the Franklin Institute website, in 1994, Cirac and Zoller proposed an experiment to construct a quantum computing device, which explicitly utilized quantum effects to perform computational functions. The quantum objects were cold trapped ions.
General ideas of quantum computing had been discussed for several years -- the idea of using quantum objects to create a computer with entirely new powers was first suggested in the 1980s by the American physicist Richard Feynman. Not only would a quantum computer be very powerful, but it would allow for solving problems that a typical binary computer could not (within a reasonable amount of time) since quantum effects allow for the simultaneous processing of many possible answers to a logical question, as opposed to considering them sequentially.
Cirac and Zoller's concrete description of a realistic quantum logic gate, the fundamental device in the computer that operates logic functions, included such meticulous detail that David Wineland and co-workers were able to build their machine within a year. It was the first demonstration of computer logic functions that exploited the laws of quantum mechanics at the level of individual atoms, thus establishing that quantum computing -- with its potential for much more powerful computers -- may be possible.
Several University of Delaware faculty serve on the Franklin Institute's Committee on Science and the Arts. The committee's mission is to sustain the scientific character of the institute through its investigation of worldwide scientific and technological achievements and its recommendation for the awarding of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in the fields of chemistry, computer and cognitive science, earth and environmental science, engineering, life science, and physics.
Stuart Pittel, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Bartol Research Institute at UD, currently chairs the awards committee, and Pamela Green, Crawford H. Greenewalt Endowed Chair in Plant Molecular Biology, is in charge of planning.
Other UD committee members include Thomas Gaisser, the Martin A. Pomerantz Chaired Professor of Physics and Astronomy; Klaus Theopold, chairperson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and John Wehmiller, professor of geological sciences.
The Franklin Institute was founded in Philadelphia in 1824 originally for the purpose of honoring Ben Franklin and advancing the usefulness of his inventions. Today, the institute's mission is to inspire an understanding of and passion for science and technology learning.
The Franklin Institute Awards, also founded in 1824, are among the oldest and most prestigious science awards, with winners recognized for their ground-breaking contributions to science.
Article by Tracey Bryant