ARLINGTON, Va.—A scientist whose work has been funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for more than 30 years received the Nobel Prize in physics Oct. 9 for his investigations into the quantum mechanics of matter and light—research that has resulted in the world's most accurate clock.
A physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado-Boulder, Dr. David J. Wineland was hailed for his contributions to the measurement and control of individual quantum systems, or isolating and trapping atoms and photons to scrutinize the relationship between light and matter. This practice lies at the heart of the quest for precision clocks and the world's most powerful computers.
"Dr. Wineland is the 63rd Nobel laureate that we've sponsored," said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder. "This significant achievement underscores the vision and skill of ONR program officers to identify and invest in the best scientific talent in the U.S. and around the world."
ONR in 1977 provided the first funding outside of NIST for Wineland and fellow researchers when they began exploring the possibilities of laser cooling to manipulate atoms using light.
"This technique has found its way into many aspects of experimental atomic physics, and through our continued funding from ONR has enabled us to now realize the world's most precise clocks," said Wineland, whose research into trapped-ion atomic clocks continues to be supported by ONR.
His recent research helped create a clock that would not stray more than a second from actual time over the course of 30 billion years. Dr. Charles Clark, who oversees ONR's Atomic, Molecular and Quantum Physics Program, said this level of precision opens up a world of possibilities for Sailors and Marines, who rely on atomic clocks stationed on satellites to provide accurate GPS measurements for operations on land, at sea and in the air.
"Greater precision in the measurement of time also leads to greater precision in measurement and control of the frequencies of electromagnetic waves," Clark said. "These have many uses in U.S. Navy applications such as enhanced sensitivity of radar, greater security of communications and improved sensing of changes of Earth's magnetic and gravitational fields, among others."
Wineland's research—along with that of co-recipient Serge Haroche, a professor at the College de France and Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris—also moves scientists closer to creating quantum computers that one day could solve complex problems at speeds unheard of with today's machines.
Wineland previously received the National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush in 2007.
The Nobel Prize is awarded each year to trailblazers in cultural and scientific fields. As Nobel laureates, Wineland and Haroche will receive a medal, a diploma and share a $1.2 million prize.
ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 30 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and more than 900 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,065 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.
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