Ammodo KNAW Award 2015 – Natural Sciences
Beam me up, Scotty!
On the recommendation of an advisory committee, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Ammodo Foundation have presented the Ammodo KNAW Award 2015 for Natural Sciences (the sum of three hundred thousand euros) to Ronald Hanson, professor of quantum physics at Delft University of Technology.
Ronald Hanson made worldwide headlines last year with a revolutionary experiment: the transfer of information from one place to another without affecting the matter or energy between the two points. It is called ‘quantum teleportation’, an almost mythical notion since Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was teleported through the universe by his chief engineer, Scotty.
Hanson is always the first to make clear that his work will not lead to real-life Captain Kirks. But the experiment was certainly a crowning interim step in his relentless efforts to freeze individual atoms and electrons in diamond crystals in order to facilitate investigation and manipulation.
Quantum physics is an area that sooner or later exceeds everyone’s intuition and imagination. It is a world where mass and energy are interchangeable, where things are one thing and another at the same time, or are present in two places at once.
It is also the territory of the famous ‘Schrödinger’s cat’ thought experiment: can we discover how a cat behaves in a hermetically sealed box without making a hole in the box and thus influencing the behaviour of the cat? In other words, can we measure the physical behaviour of an electron without disturbing that behaviour? Yes, sometimes we can, as Hanson has shown in recent years.
Some of the consequences of quantum physics even go beyond the imagination of Albert Einstein. That includes the concept of ‘quantum entanglement’, which proposes that the fate of two electrons in two places can be so intimately connected that if we perform a measurement on one electron, its entangled sister will simultaneously produce the opposite measurement result.
Finding proof that quantum entanglement exists and can possibly be used to move information in super-fast quantum computers represents one of the biggest challenges in the field. Ronald Hanson and his research group are competing with a handful of others around the world to win the gold medal in this race.
Last year he took a big step towards the final proof by using two entangled electrons to teletransport very basic information (‘0’ or ‘1’) across a distance of three metres. And he continues to work hard on a larger, even more convincing follow-up experiment.
Ronald Hanson (born 1976) is the Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Professor of Quantum Physics at Delft University of Technology. After studying applied physics in Groningen, he went on to study in Leiden and Tokyo (at the Hitachi Advanced Research Labs). He obtained his PhD (cum laude) in Delft and had postdoctoral positions in Delft and at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His previous awards include an NWO Vidi grant and an ERC Starting Grant. He was also elected to the Young Academy in 2010.