- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005


Two Americans and a German won the Nobel Prize in physics yesterday for optics research that is improving the accuracy of such precision instruments as Global Positioning System locators, atomic clocks and navigation systems.

Americans John L. Hall and Roy J. Glauber shared the prize with Theodor W. Haensch of Germany.

Mr. Glauber, 80, of Harvard University, took half of the $1.3 million award for showing how the quantum nature of light can affect its behavior.

His insights led to the work of Mr. Hall, 71, a professor at the University of Colorado, and Mr. Haensch, 63, of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich. Those two men will share the other half of the prize.

Mr. Glauber thought it was a joke when the phone jolted him awake early yesterday, and a man with a Swedish accent told him that he had won the Nobel Prize. He recognized the voice as a scientist he knows and thought it was a prank.

“I could scarcely believe him,” he said. “But there was something very persuasive about that hour of the morning.”

Until Mr. Glauber published his theories in 1963, scientists dismissed the idea that quantum theory, which was developed to describe the behavior of particles, had any application to light. But Mr. Glauber showed that certain types of light — including lasers — could only be fully understood using quantum methods, which treat light as individual packets of energy rather than continuous waves.

“His results are fundamental for our modern understanding of the behavior of light,” said Sune Svanberg, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

Researchers have used Mr. Glauber’s insights to create exotic lasers and devices that hold tiny samples in place with the pressure of photons. More recently, the possibility has arisen of building computers that use light, rather than electricity, to do their calculations.

Mr. Hall and Mr. Haensch built on Mr. Glauber’s discovery by developing a means of measuring the frequency of a laser beam to a precision of one part in a thousand-trillion.

With that ability, scientists can build optical clocks that keep time more accurately than existing atomic devices and improve the precision of distance measurements.

“This in turn will allow better GPS systems, better space navigation and improved control of astronomical telescope arrays,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted in awarding the prize.

The research could also be useful in creating better digital animation.

“Eventually, we may be able to enjoy three-dimensional holographic movies,” Mr. Haensch said.

Borje Johansson, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, called the academy’s choice “a typical physics prize.”

“First someone breaks down a barrier, and then things happen,” Mr. Johansson said. “The common man can have great use of this.”

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