Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Aspect, Alain
Location Institut d'Optique
Primary Field Physics
Secondary Field Applied Physical Sciences
 Election Citation
Aspect performed conclusive and convincing experiments that showed violation of Bell's inequalities. He showed that nature is as strange as quantum mechanics predicts, and no local "hidden variable" theory can explain what happens. More recently, he has pioneered major directions in atom optics, laser cooling, and Bose-Einstein condensation.
 Research Interests
My successive research interests have all been related to my fascination with "quantum weirdness," revealed in the experiments in Photon Optics and Atom Optics that I have carried out with outstanding collaborators. Some of the observed effects might eventually lead to practical applications. In the early 1980's, we produced pairs of entangled photons to perform experimental tests of the famous Bell's inequalities, helping to settle a debate between Einstein and Bohr about the conceptual foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Later, a source of single photons allowed us to demonstrate the surprising behavior of such light on a beam splitter. Entangled photons and single photons are now widely used in the rapidly developing field of quantum information. In the late 1980's, in the team led by Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, we developed a method based on a quantum interference effect to cool atoms below the so-called "single photon recoil limit," very close to absolute zero. Since 1992 my research group on Atom Optics has aimed at exploring with atoms phenomenon previously observed with photons, with possible applications to inertial and gravitational sensors based on atom interferometers. Most of our experiments use Bose Einstein Condensates of dilute atom gases, in particular BEC's of metastable Helium. We have demonstrated several Quantum Atom Optics effects (atomic Hanbury Brown and Twiss effect; production of correlated atom pairs), which can be even more surprising than their Photon Optics analogues, since atoms can come either as bosons or as fermions. Another promising line of research aims at using ultra-cold atoms to build quantum simulators for shedding new light on condensed matter problems, for example, Anderson localization of matter waves in a disordered medium.

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