Serge Haroche interview: Nobel Prize in Physics 2012

Uploaded by thenobelprize on 11.10.2012

[Serge Haroche] Hello? [Adam Smith] Oh hello, Professor Haroche?
[SH] Yes? [AS] Ah, hello, this is Adam Smith from,
in Stockholm. [SH] Yes?
[AS] We have this tradition of interviewing new Laureates for just a very few minutes,
so may we speak?... Thank you. Congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
[SH] Thank you very much. [AS] What were you doing when the call came,
when you received the call from Stockholm? [SH] I was walking in the street with my wife.
I get ready to get back home and I was just caught by the phone – by the call on my
cellular phone. [AS] What was your first thought on receiving
the call? [SH] My first thought was amazement, you know.
I realize think I had this thought, even before I got the phone, because I saw the code '46'
for Sweden, so I knew the prize was giving today so it's ... I could not believe it!
That was my first reaction: I was really amazed and of course it's wonderful. And, then, I
learned about it and it's starting to sink in. But, it's very ... it takes some time
because immediately after that I was swamped with phone calls from all over the world and
I'm still trying to recuperate from that and it's not finished!
[AS] Ha! No, I think it will go on for some time. But, yes, your heart rate must have
increased very rapidly when you saw that '46'. [SH] Yes, yes! And, I was really overwhelmed
by this. Very! And I was also very glad to share it with Dave Wineland, when I heard
about the news, because he's fine and I admire his work very much. We have been in contact
with each other for many, many years and so I'm very glad to share the prize with him.
[AS] And, in some ways, there's this lovely symmetry about it that you trap photons and
he traps atoms ... [SH] Exactly, and I use atoms to study the
photons and he uses photons to study atoms. So, it's really symmetrical and, at some point
during our work, we published papers back-to-back. Just by chance, it happened that we are doing
similar things on his atoms and my photons. And, there are many similarities between our
group and his. He's also working on a very long range project, as I'm doing in Paris
with a large team of postdocs, visitors and students. And, I'm sure he shares my feeling
by saying that this prize is as much the prize of all of our colleagues who are working with
us in our groups than ours. We know the rule of the Nobel Prize – it has to be given
to never more than three people so it's very difficult to share it. But, I want to stress
that this is the work of two teams which have been working very hard, with a lot of very
bright people in both teams. [AS] Again, perfect symmetry, because we spoke
to him earlier and he did express exactly the same feeling, that it was ...
[SH] Sure, and I did not hear his! My assistant [name inaudible] told me that you had already
interviewed him but I did not have a chance to hear his interview.
[AS] And, it does seem quite amazing to think that in your laboratory you arrange meetings
between single photons and single atoms ... [SH] Yes, we are doing that kind of experiments
and for a very long time people were working with huge collections of atoms and photons,
and when you work with big ensembles the quantum properties are, so to speak, veiled. They
are hidden because of statistical effects. And, if you work with single particles, as
we do, then you can reveal the quantum effects in a very dramatic way, and you can learn
about all these quantum processes. And, that's what we are trying to do.
[AS] How long did it take to build the apparatus to allow you to do this?
[SH] Oh, it took a long time! The ideas which gave rise to the prize started about, I would
say, more than twenty years ago in our lab. And, I'm sure the same in Dave Wineland's
lab. And, it took us many years to build the apparatus and to improve it to the point that
we were able to trap the photons for such a long time. So, it's a very long term project
and I am glad that I was working in an environment which allows for this long range project to
be able to mature and to flourish. I was working at the École Normale, in Paris, in a lab
where we have very good students from École Normale and from other grandes écoles in
France and a lot of postdocs and visitors from all over Europe and all over the world
and it's a very fantastic atmosphere to be able to develop these. And now, I have just
changed. I have moved to Collège de France, which is very close to l'École Normale, in
Paris, and become the administrator of Collège de France which is a very important task.
And, that's why I do not realize very well what's happening because I will have to manage
my administrative tasks with all the tasks which will come from the Nobel Prize. And,
I have to organize my life. For the time being I don't know exactly what will happen.
[AS] Let's hope you have a good assistant administrator!
[SH] Yes, and everybody at École Normale and Collège de France are very happy and
very helpful and ... I hope everything will go well!
[AS] It's nice that everyone shares in your joy. Just one last question because there
is so much emphasis on application, application. But, really the work you do, it focuses on
understanding the fundamentals, on understanding this frontier between classical and quantum
mechanics. [SH] Yes, exactly. And, if you were to ask
me what was the application, I would tell you I don't know. And I would just tell you
that I think there will be some applications. But, whether these applications will be for
the general public or applications which will help to improve some devices which will be
used by scientists, it's not clear. To take an example about the work that Dave Wineland
is doing, one part of Dave's work is to work on atomic clocks and he's using this single
ability to control single particles to develop clocks which are fantastically accurate. And,
this precision could be used to develop ways to detect very small effects, like small gravitational
shifts, for instance. So, this is one application. In my work I am also using atomic clocks but
in a quite different context. I use clocks which are so sensitive to light that they
can be used to detect single photons. So, again, there is some kind of connection between
his work and mine. But, what will be the use to be able to detect these photons without
destroying them, I don't know. I hope that there will be some applications, but I cannot
tell which. [AS] Ah, but the basic research has to come
first anyway, yes. Okay, well, when you come to Stockholm, in December, to receive your
prize, happily we have the chance to interview both you and David Wineland together.
[SH] Yes, with pleasure. I'm looking forward to that, yes.
[AS] We are too. So again many congratulations and thank you for speaking ...
[SH] Thank you very much, thank you, goodbye. [AS] Goodbye, thank you.