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Physics Nobel goes to quantum theorists

Frenchman Serge Haroche and American David Wineland shared the prize for work involving photons. 

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In this combination of photos made Tuesday, American physicist David Wineland (l.) poses at his home in Boulder, Colo., and French physicist Serge Haroche speaks to the media in Paris, after they were named winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Ed Andrieski (l.) and Michel Euler/AP

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A Frenchman and an American shared the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for inventing methods to peer into the bizarre quantum world of ultra-tiny particles, work that could help in creating a new generation of super-fast computers.

Serge Haroche of France and American David Wineland opened the door to new experiments in quantum physics in the 1990s by showing how to observe individual atoms and particles of light called photons while preserving their quantum properties.

Quantum physics, a field about a century old, explains a lot about nature but includes some weird-sounding behavior by individual, isolated particles. A particle resists our idea of either-or: it's not here or there, it's sort of both. It's not spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise, but a bit of both. It gets a definite location or spin only when it's measured.

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Working separately, the two scientists, both 68, developed "ingenious laboratory methods" that allowed them to manage and measure and control fragile quantum states, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Wineland traps ions — electrically charged atoms — and measures them with light, while Haroche controls and measures photons.

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