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Acclaimed researcher wins Michelson Postdoctoral Prize

David Hanneke helped create building block of quantum computing, performed what some call the most accurate experiment in science

Case Western Reserve University

David Hanneke's most recent project has been hailed as the physics breakthrough of the year and his prior work is considered by many to be the most accurate experiment in science.

For these exceptional accomplishments, Hanneke, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO, will be awarded the Michelson Postdoctoral Prize at Case Western Reserve University Thursday. He is the first Case Western Reserve alum to receive the award since it was created in 1997.

Hanneke, who graduated from Case Western Reserve in 2001, is part of a team at NIST that created a building block, or gate, of a quantum computer - a computer that for certain complex problems, could relegate today's supercomputers to slide rule status.

A quantum computer has the potential to store far more data and process information far faster. Here's why: instead of storing data as bits with a value of 0 or 1, data would be stored in qubits that can have more than one value at the same time, saving space and simultaneously sharing information.

The NIST team created a gate for a quantum computer with two beryllium atoms and two magnesium atoms. The gate stored data, performed logic operations, transferred information and more.

Physics World magazine called the work "Breakthrough of the Year" in 2009, but, Hanneke cautions, "Quantum computers are still a long way off."

Earlier, Hanneke studied electron properties for his doctoral thesis at Harvard. There, he measured electron magnetism - something called a g-factor - to an accuracy never approached before or since. He took the measurement out 15 places, and in so doing, he verified the accuracy of the theory of quantum electrodynamics that describes the interaction of electrons and light, which calculated the same number out 15 places.

Hanneke received his PhD in physics from Harvard in 2008.

The work continues to be regarded as the most accurate experiment to test a scientific theory, said Harsh Mathur, professor of physics at CWRU and chair of the Michelson Postdoctoral Prize Committee.


Hanneke, who is giving lectures at Case Western Reserve through the week, will receive the Michelson award at 4:15 p.m. Thursday in 301 Rockefeller Building.

The Michelson Postdoctoral Prize was established in 1997 and is awarded annually by the physics department at Case Western Reserve University to an outstanding junior scholar active in any field of physics. The prizewinner spends one week in residence at the university and presents a colloquium and three seminars to the department of physics.

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