The 2010 Wolf Prize in Physics acknowledges research into the foundations of quantum mechanics.
Since 1978, the Wolf Prizes have been awarded in mathematics, physics, chemistry, agriculture, medicine and arts, “to outstanding scientists and artists — irrespective of nationality, race, colour, religion, sex or political views — for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples”. The 2010 winners in physics are John Clauser, Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger. It brings a purse of $100,000, but also the prestige of one of the most important science prizes after the Nobel Prize — indeed, it can be an indicator for the latter: 14 out of the previous 45 recipients of the Wolf Prize in Physics went on to Nobel laureateship.
Clauser, Aspect and Zeilinger were cited at last month's ceremony for “their fundamental conceptual and experimental contributions to the foundations of quantum physics, specifically an increasingly sophisticated series of tests of Bell's inequalities or extensions thereof using entangled quantum states”. Their work has established a good part of what we now call quantum information science. But to see it as a 'quantum information prize' would be to miss the point. Rather, it acknowledges the roots of that now-thriving field in what was, for a long time, a shadowy corner of physics.
When Clauser, Aspect and Zeilinger set to work, it was unclear whether the foundational basis for quantum mechanics hadn't been long since laid. But these three, building on work by John Bell, showed that important foundational issues remained. Their progress, against the prevailing attitude of the time, didn't come without sacrifice. John Clauser — one of the first to realize the full implications of Bell's work and to conduct experiments in the field — never gained a permanent position in this fledgling field of physics. At last his seminal work is recognized, and his inclusion in this award is to be applauded.
There is always a risk that awards and recognition may distort the historical record. But they may also serve to set it straight.
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