This year, the Austrian quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger, the French physicist Alain Aspect and the American experimental physicist John Clauser share the Nobel Prize in Physics. According to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, all three are recognized for their research in the field of quantum mechanics. For decades they have been regarded as the world's leading minds in this field.
The 77-year-old Zeilinger acquired the basics of his special knowledge as a student of mathematics and physics in Vienna practically on the side - instead of going to lectures on quantum physics, he preferred to study relevant books. As a child, Zeilinger actually wanted to be an astronaut.
Zeilinger has been researching quantum teleportation for decades. She earned him the nickname "Mr. Beam" in reference to the legendary "Beam" in the science fiction series "Star Trek". When he succeeded in this teleportation - the transport of the state of a light particle - in 1997, the man with the full white beard soon became a sought-after interview partner, also because he was able to do what only a few researchers are able to do in the field of highly abstract quantum physics: immensely complex research results in explain in understandable terms.
His amazement at the world and enthusiasm for his subject are still huge. Teleportation, i.e. the connectionless transfer of the properties of one system to another, completely amazed him. "It knocked my socks off back then and still knocks my socks off today," he told the Austrian news agency APA on his 75th birthday.
Zeilinger has received dozens of international awards and has published more than 500 scientific papers, many of them together with his co-award winners Aspect and Clauser. Besides physics, music is Zeilinger's second love. He plays the cello, loves jazz and classical music. The mysteries of his subject drive him unabated. New experiments should help clarify the fundamental question: what is reality? "Because it is increasingly becoming apparent that our concepts of reality are fundamentally wrong," says Zeilinger.
First at the California Institute of Technology and then at New York's Columbia University, he studied physics and worked in various laboratories in California, including at the University of California at Berkeley, and as a freelance physicist, consultant and inventor. Clauser, who says he's also "enthusiastic about sailing boat competitions," was initially interested in different areas of physics -- "but once I got into the quantum mechanics stuff, everything else paled in comparison."
The 79-year-old has also published dozens of scientific publications and has received numerous awards - including the 2010 Wolf Physics Prize, together with Aspect and Zeilinger.
Alain Aspect's name was on everyone's lips in 1983. At that time, the French succeeded in proving quantum mechanics in his diploma thesis. "Few researchers had dared to attempt the experimental verification of what had become a paradox raised by the American physicist John Bell," he told the Liberation newspaper in 1998.
As the son of a teacher couple, the 75-year-old was practically born with the urge for knowledge. "We lived in the school back then," he began in 2019 to describe his - as he says - classic career as a teacher's child. From the village school in southern France to the grammar school in the department capital Agen, his path then led to the capital Paris, where he spent his entire academic career at leading institutes in his field - except for three years as a lecturer in Cameroon. His high school physics teacher gave him the spark to get excited about physics.
For Aspect, which has received numerous prestigious awards, the Nobel Prize in Physics crowns four decades of groundbreaking basic research. At the French National Research Center CNRS and the elite Paris-Saclay University, Aspect has dedicated itself to the experimental study of the quantum properties of light and ultracold atoms, which form the basis of quantum technologies.
The Berlin professor of quantum optics, Arno Rauschentüte, describes him as collegial and open. Aspect reviewed his doctoral dissertation in France in 2001 and also assisted in his defence. "He got involved with my thoughts, even if I was just a junior doctoral student," said Rauschentüte. "He's a very collegial person and very open and always says what he thinks. And he's open to new perspectives, and you probably have to be when you're dealing with these kinds of issues."