Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / December 2, 2015

Discovering the world of quantum optics

Written by Nera Kuljanic and Liliana Cunha Quantum optics and photonics have revolutionised our lives – in our daily use…

© Shutterstock / sakkmesterke

Written by Nera Kuljanic and Liliana Cunha

Discovering the world of quantum optics
© Shutterstock / sakkmesterke

Quantum optics and photonics have revolutionised our lives – in our daily use of TVs, cameras in our mobile phones, computer screens, LED lighting, navigation systems and fibre-optic cables. In 2012, Professors Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland jointly won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their study of the particle of light, the photon, and more specifically for the ‘ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems’. What is remarkable about this field of research is that the usual macroscopic laws of physics do not apply at the scale of subatomic particles, indeed it was long believed that, with these tiny particles, only fundamental research is possible.

Professor Haroche is the keynote speaker at this year’s Annual Lecture on 9 December 2015, organised by STOA, the EP’s Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel. Professor Haroche was born in 1944 and holds the Chair of Quantum Physics at the Collège de France since 2001, and is the Administrator since September 2012. The professor’s work and research is devoted to the importance of atomic physics and the investigation of phenomena involving light and its interactions with matter at submicroscopic levels. Fittingly, during the UN General Assembly’s global initiative of an International Year of Light 2015, this Annual Lecture will highlight the importance of light and light-based technologies.

Why light?

Quantum optics ‘is the study of the interaction between atoms and light. Most information comes to us through light, from information on stars and the universe to information on the objects that surround us. Of course, as well as looking at visible rays, we study infrared and ultraviolet light and the radio- and micro-waves shooting through space in all directions that give us a huge quantity of information! Quantum optics helps us to understand natural phenomena and to develop new technologies‘, noted Professor Haroche in an interview published on the website of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. While quantum optics often refers to fundamental science, photonics usually signifies the applied science and technology of generating, controlling, and detecting photons.

It is photonics and quantum optics we should thank for the numerous devices and technologies which enable life and work as we know them today. Indeed, they are a common denominator of many breakthroughs from telecommunications, information processing and entertainment, through construction and manufacturing, to medicine. Professor Haroche himself noted this phenomenon, in his speech following the Nobel Prize presentation on 10 December 2012. Moreover, photonics is considered to challenge our dependence on electronics and could allow us to connect with people from all over the world faster than ever.

The EU funds photonics research within Horizon 2020 and considers photonics to be a Key Enabling Technology (KET) for Europe in the 21st century. Light-based technologies also attract the attention of the business world: the current global market of €300 billion is expected to double by 2020.

What to expect next?

Building on Professor Haroche’s speech, Professor Christophe Salomon from the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, will shed light on the applications of discoveries in quantum optics. Grégoire Ribordy, CEO of ID Quantique, Geneva, will introduce one of the most specific applications of quantum physics: quantum cryptography for online security and protection of information.

The event will be chaired and moderated by Paul Rübig, MEP and STOA Chair. Mairead McGuinness, MEP and Vice-President responsible for STOA will draw the conclusions, and Eva Kaili, MEP and First STOA Vice-Chair, will close the event.

Don’t stay in the dark: register to embark on this discovery tour of the world of quantum optics and photonics. Join the discussion on Twitter by using #quantumlecture2015.



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