Winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics: Serge Haroche (left) and David J. Wineland (right, who may be the same person as Sam Elliott).

The the winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics were announced this morning: Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland. Their work involves trapping and measuring the quantum states of photons and ions, respectively:

A major challenge is measuring the state of a quantum system without modifying it. On the macroscopic scale, we can generally measure mass, size, and the like without worrying about destroying anything, but quantum mechanics is more like medicine. The most reliable way to determine if something is wrong with a person is to cut right in, hack things apart, and extract the bits that are causing problems—but for obvious reasons, that’s a bad idea under most circumstances if you want the patient to live. Just as the treatments that kill cancer cells often can kill healthy cells as well, measurement of a quantum state can alter or even destroy the system under study. [Read more….]

Trapping particles leads to 2012 Nobel Prize in physics