“As long as humans have populated the Earth, we have been fascinated by optical phenomena and gradually unravelled the nature of light,” the Royal Swedish Academy said.

“With the aid of light, we can orient ourselves in our daily lives or observe the most distant galaxies of the universe.”

Professor Glauber, an 80-year-old physics professor at Harvard University, took half the Nobel prize for establishing the basis of quantum optics, which explained the fundamental difference between sources of warm light such as light bulbs and cold lasers.

Professor Glauber, who was on the staff of the Manhattan Project which developed the nuclear bomb for the United States during World War II, has been at Harvard since 1976.

Professor Hall and Professor Haensch shared the other half for advancing the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, a field that opens the way to the next generation of GPS navigation and ultra-precise atomic clocks.

“Lasers with extremely sharp colours can now be constructed,” the Academy said of the work of Professor Hall, 71, and Professor Haensch, 63.

Professor Hall works at the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology while Professor Haensch is a physics professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich, Germany, and runs the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Quantenoptik in Garching.

Their work had made it possible to develop “extremely accurate clocks” and improve satellite-based navigation systems (GPS) for anything from car and boat trips to distant journeys through space, the Academy said.

“It was the sort of discovery that makes headlines quickly,” said Professor Haensch, admitting he was “excited” and “overwhelmed” at winning the Nobel award.

Broadband technology was another key area where his findings would be applied in the future, Professor Haensch said.

How light emitted by a candle differs from the beam produced by a laser in a CD player, or how the already stunning accuracy of atomic clocks could be improved further, were among questions this year’s laureates had tackled successfully, the Academy said.

Professor Glauber’s pioneering work on applying quantum physics to optical phenomena is over four decades old, being first reported in 1963.

Professor Haensch’s landmark development, with Professor Hall, of the so-called optical frequency comb technique had made the German scientist confident that he might win a Nobel prize one day.

But he “hadn’t necessarily expected it as early as this year” given that his best work only dated from the late 1990s, he said.

Their seminal discoveries shed new light on the difference between matter and anti-matter, and allowed the measuring of time with unsurpassed precision.

All three laureates, though, are standing on the shoulders of giants.

The sources of their achievement can be traced back to 1862, when the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell described light as “transverse undulations”: the theory was born of light as a wave of electromagnetic energy.

Then, exactly a century ago, came Albert Einstein’s “annus mirabilis”, the miracle year in which the German-born genius wrote papers that reshaped our perception of the universe.

Among Einstein’s achievements was ground-breaking work on the nature of light, which he identified as “lumpy” form, made of particles of energy called photons. This won him the 1921 Nobel Prize.

The 2005 laureates will receive a gold medal and share a cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor or A$1.7 million at a formal ceremony held on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize’s creator, Alfred Nobel.

On Monday, the Nobel Medicine Prize went to Australian research duo Professor Barry J Marshall and Professor J Robin Warren for their pioneering 1982 discovery that ulcers are caused by bacteria, and not stress and lifestyle as previously thought, and are therefore best treated with antibiotics.

The Chemistry Prize will be announced on Wednesday, the Peace Prize on Friday and the Economics Prize is scheduled for October 10.

The Literature Prize is expected be awarded on October 13, but the Swedish Acadamy has yet to announce the date.

  • Posted on 10. January 2019
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