The 2022 Physics Nobel winners untangled the spookiness of quantum mechanics

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The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, establishing the five categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. Image: Pexels/Monstera

Ananya Bhattacharya
Contributor, Quartz
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  • This year's Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists for "experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science".
  • All award announcements so far have been live-streamed with economics closing the year’s series on 10 Oct.
  • Here is a brief history of the Nobel Prize with a spotlight on the physics category the achievements of its winners.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to France’s Alain Aspect, an expert on quantum optics and atomic physics, American theoretical and experimental physicist John F. Clauser, and Austrian quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger.

On Tuesday (Oct. 4), the prestigious award went to the three “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.” The three took forward John Stewart Bell’s work, which attempted to answer questions raised in a 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Poldosky, and Nathan Rosen.

The Nobel Prize in Medicine went to Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo yesterday. The chemistry, literature, and the peace prizes will follow every day for the rest of the week, with economics closing the year’s series on Oct 10. All the announcements will be livestreamed.

Each winner will get a medal, a diploma, and 10 million Swedish krona ($901,608).

Brief history of the Nobel Prize

Nov. 27, 1895: The will of Swedish chemist, engineer, and industrialist Alfred Nobel, most famously credited with inventing dynamite, sets aside the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes. His assets—including holdings in Russian oil company Baku Petroleum and a hundred or so ammunition and dynamite factories around the world, a yacht, a stud farm, three apartments scattered around in Europe, and more—amounted to 31 million Swedish krona

June 29, 1900: The Nobel Foundation is established to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prizes

Dec. 10, 1901: The first Nobel Prizes are awarded. There were five categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace

1968: Sveriges Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, makes a donation to the Nobel Foundation on its 300th anniversary to establish the Prize in Economic Sciences


“It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.” - Nobel’s will

A snapshot of recent winners in Physics

A list from 2012-2021 of the Noble Prize winners for physics
American physicist and engineer John Bardeen is the only laureate who has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics twice. Image: Quartz.

Person of interest: John Bardeen

American physicist and engineer John Bardeen is the only laureate who has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics twice, once in 1956 as the co-inventor of the transistor, and again in 1972, for the explanation of superconductivity.

The Physics Prize, by the digits

115: Nobel Prizes in Physics awarded since 1901

219: People who’ve been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics since 1901

4: Women who’ve won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Among them is Marie Curie—the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the only one to win it twice; once in the physics category with her husband Pierre Curie in 1903, and once as the sole winner for chemistry in 1911

25: Age of the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Lawrence Bragg, who was awarded the Nobel Prize together with his father in 1915 “for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays”

3: the number of father-son duos that won the Physics Nobel Prize—but separately, unlike the Braggs.

96: Age of the oldest Nobel Prize laureate in Physics to date: Arthur Ashkin, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems”

85: The US has bagged the highest number of Physics Nobel Prizes. The UK and Germany tie a distant second at 24 each

America’s immigration edge in Physics

In the early days of the Nobel Prize, Germany was eclipsing everyone else in the science prizes. So how did the US come to dominate physics?

During the 1930s, the rise of Nazi Germany prompted many scientists to flee from Europe. Between 1930 and 1941, twelve Nobel prize winning scientists came to the US because of the threat of Nazi Germany. Notable German physicists Wolfgang Pauli, Otto Stern, and Eugene Wigner would win their prizes after coming to the US.

When Italy’s Enrico Fermi won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938, he used the opportunity to travel to Stockholm to receive the award to flee his country’s fascist regime with his family and moved to the US, where he worked on making the first atomic bomb alongside J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The bulk of immigrant scientists—Nobelists and otherwise—worked at prestigious US universities, teaching and mentoring future Nobel laureates.


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