This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Professors Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger, both funded by the European Research Council (ERC). They share the prize equally with John F. Clauser “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science”. They laid the foundation for a new era of quantum technology. After yesterday’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine that was awarded to an ERC grantee, this brings the number of ERC grantees winning a Nobel Prize up to twelve since the EU launched the ERC in 2007.
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “Congratulations to the new Nobel laureates! We are especially happy that Anton Zeilinger and Alain Aspect have been funded by the European Research Council. This was excellent news again, after yesterday’s Nobel Prize went to ERC grantee Svante Pääbo. So there are now three of this year’s laureates who have been substantially funded by the EU. It pays off to invest in top researchers and letting them follow their scientific curiosity!”
ERC President Prof. Maria Leptin said: “Warm congratulations to the winners! Both Anton Zeilinger and Alain Aspect have received support for their ground-breaking research from the European Research Council. So we now have twelve ERC grantees who went on to be awarded a Nobel Prize. It’s essential to give the brightest minds free reign to explore their best ideas.“
Alain Aspect is a Centre National de la Recherche Scientique (CNRS) Distinguished Scientist and Head of the Atom Optics Group, Laboratoire Charles Fabry, Institut d’Optique, Palaiseau, France. The ERC funded him through a 2010 Advanced Grant for his project on “Quantum Atom Optics from Entangled Pairs to Strongly Correlated Systems”, worth € 2.13 million for 5 years.
Anton Zeilinger is Full Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Vienna, and Scientific Director, the Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. The ERC funded him through a 2008 Advanced Grant for his project on “Photonic quantum information technology and the foundations of quantum physics in higher dimensions”, worth € 1.75 million for 5 years.
Professor Zeilinger also participated in further EU-funded projects through the EU’s 5th, 6th and 7th Framework Programmes for Research.
Professors Aspect and Zeilinger won the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2010.
Nobel laureates’ research
This year's Nobel Prize has been awarded to scientists who made seminal contribution to the realm of quantum information. Entangled quantum state, one of the building blocks of quantum information, are systems where two quantum entities act as one and each action on one of them is instantaneously reflected on its counterpart. This is a fundamental notion which Einstein called "spooky action at a distance". The ERC grantees Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger, together with John F. Clauser, made fundamental contribution in the field.
Alain Aspect’s ERC Advanced Grant project QUANTATOP builds on his pioneering work on demonstrating Bell’s inequality violation - for which he was awarded the Nobel prize - and goes one step further in establishing basic tools for quantum optics experiment and single atom detection and manipulation. The objectives of his ERC project were twofold: on the one hand, to revisit with atoms, i.e. massive particles, emblematic phenomena of photonic quantum optics, and on the other hand, to simulate with such atoms emblematic phenomena in the field of condensed matter physics. One of the main achievements of his ERC-funded project was the demonstration of the atomic equivalent of the Hong-Ou-Mandel effect. This conceptually simple phenomenon was demonstrated in the 1980s in a seminal experiment with entangled photons: for the first time Aspect’s team showed its equivalent for entangled atoms. This paved the way to an ultimate test of entanglement of massive particles, by testing Bell's inequalities on atomic momenta, and may shed a new light on the frontier between quantum mechanics and gravitation.
In his ERC Advanced Grant project QIT4QAD, Prof. Zeilinger focused on developing novel technologies for quantum information science, demonstrated new concepts for quantum computation and realised a number of fundamental experiments in quantum mechanics. To implement quantum entanglement in more complex systems, the group developed new multiport devices and sources in fiber optics and integrated optics technology. Using these sources and multiports, the group was able to realise novel quantum correlations in higher-dimensional systems. An important result for future quantum computation was the achievement of a group of coherent single-photon upconversion experiments and the demonstration that by using such techniques, quantum entanglement is preserved. Additionally, the team showed the first demonstration of blind quantum computation. This is the procedure that a central server in the future quantum internet can be operating in such a way that the operator of the server can never achieve any information about the tasks which he is performing for a client. Finally, linking back to the work of Aspect, Zeilinger’s group also performed some novel test of Bell's inequality which proved that a local realistic interpretation of quantum mechanics is not possible.
Today's Nobel Prize laureates follow ten other ERC grantees:
- Prof. Konstantin Novoselov was the first ERC grantee to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on graphene. He held a Starting Grant and in 2010 was amongst the youngest Nobel prize winners in history. See ERC press release
- Prof. Serge Haroche, ERC Advanced Grant holder, was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems. See ERC press release
- Professors Edvard I. Moser and May-Britt Moser, both ERC Advanced Grant holders, received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain. See ERC press release
- Prof. Jean Tirole, ERC Advanced Grant holder, received the 2014 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his work on examining competition, analysing how large companies should be regulated to prevent monopoly behaviour and protect consumers. See ERC press release
- Prof. Bernard Feringa, ERC Advanced Grant holder, received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. See ERC press release
- Prof. Peter J. Ratcliffe, ERC Advanced Grant holder, received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.” See ERC press release
- Prof. Giorgio Parisi, two-fold ERC Advanced Grant holder and funded for a decade, received the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics “for ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems.” See ERC press release
- Prof. Benjamin List, two-fold ERC Advanced Grant holder and funded for a decade, won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis”. See Press release
- Prof. Svante Pääbo, two-fold ERC Advanced Grant holder and funded for a decade, won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for his discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”. See Press release
In addition, the ERC has funded several researchers who were already Nobel Prize laureates when they won their ERC grants.
About the ERC
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.
The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council, and the ERC President. Maria Leptin is the President since 2021. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.