Serge Harush, Nobel Laureate in Physics, on Quantum Computing: ‘There Are Still Many Difficulties to Overcome’ | Science and Technology

One could say that his motive was to kill the father. Serge Harroche (Casablanca, 1944) was one of the 2012 race winners Nobel Prize in Physics Because it was able to catch and manipulate individual particles while preserving their quantum nature. His achievement was unimaginable. Erwin Schrödinger himself, one of the fathers of quantum physics, had stated nearly a century ago that working on a single particle was impossible. Schrödinger’s solution was the principle of quantum superposition: since he could not isolate and observe a physical system like the electron, he could assume that it exists in all of its theoretically possible states. Thus, his famous cat appeared: locked in a box, it was alive and dead so that it could be observed. Then Harush came and changed Schrödinger’s “and” to “or”.

From the first computer to the fiber-optic connection, the great technological advances of our time have become a reality thanks to quantum mechanics, and the latest award from the Swedish Academy, awarded on October 6, is once again rewarded with advances in the field. Three physicists were able to control the communication between particles that were hundreds of miles away. Until that point, what was known as quantum entanglement (communication between distant particles without any physical connection) had been a mystery to science.

“The progress has been remarkable,” says Harroch, who recently visited Buenos Aires, at the invitation of the Organization of Ibero-American States to celebrate International Science Week. The French physicist, professor and former director of the physics department at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and former director of the Collège de France in the city retired with a very specific purpose: to defend research as an end in itself. Facing the urgency of the market and the constant demand for results.

A question. The measurement of individual quantum systems was a major feat, unimaginable to the pioneers of quantum mechanics. What does that teach us?

Answer. It teaches us that the way we look at science depends on the technology you have access to. The reason Schrödinger or Einstein said this was impossible to see is because they couldn’t visualize the technology we have now.

s. What doors did those investigations open?

a. Our work on quantum technology was based on the idea that we can use quantum technology to achieve tasks that are not possible according to classical physics. One example is atomic clocks, which are more accurate than those currently used in GPS systems. Another area is quantum communication using entanglement to share cryptographic keys that cannot be spied for secret communications. These fields are very active. And of course, there’s the field of a quantum computer, which is the hardest field to achieve because there are a lot of challenges to be faced before that becomes possible.

s. The Nobel prize On recent developments in quantum communications. What do these achievements mean?

a. I am very happy about that because the Inquisitors have been friends of mine for many years. The basic features of entanglement have been explored for 40 years, in an attempt to establish what happens when photons remain connected by this intangible link called entanglement even when they are kilometers away. At that time there was no application for that experience. It took 20 years for experiments like ours to show that it is possible to manipulate isolated quantum systems. Now, quantum communication has become very fashionable and has been improved. Now people will think that it can be useful for something.

s. You have very strong opinions about what we consider “useful” science.

a. I think it’s important to realize that things we think are done just for curiosity are useful in unexpected ways. Think of one of the great achievements in this field: the laser. Einstein presented his basic idea 40 years before the first idea was built. And before the first lasers appeared, no one thought we’d be able to connect the world with optical fibers, across the ocean with lasers. Ten years after the invention of the first laser, we were able to communicate over thousands of kilometers using quantum repeaters. But the inventor of the laser had no idea this would happen. The laser is a result of basic science, something that is made possible by it and then applied to specific research later on.

Haroche, during the interview at a hotel in Buenos Aires.
Haroche, during the interview at a hotel in Buenos Aires.Silvina Fridlowski (Sylvina Fridlowski)

s. We’ve heard about huge strides in the area Quantitative Statistics In the past two years. What do you think of companies like Google or IBM that say we’ve reached so-called quantum supremacy?

a. There are many difficulties to overcome. The first is quantum superposition, it’s very fragile. Right now, we’ve only been able to control a few particles at a time, and there are millions of particles that need to be controlled to make that happen. In my opinion, there is a lot of hype, a lot of overselling because of this competition between companies. The work they do is very interesting, but in the meantime there is a lot of things to do. It’s interesting research, but it shouldn’t be overstated. The history of science tells us that what happens in

The development of new technologies and devices is often surprising and not what people were originally trying to obtain. The time lag between basic science and application is often long and comes with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. We must be careful.

s. Aren’t companies wary?

a. No, I don’t think so. I feel they are betting on being able to offer a marketable product. I look at this not from the point of view of someone who needs to make a profit, I see it from a purely scientific perspective. We need to be careful because that could backfire; You can’t talk about something that will happen in two or three years because these developments take longer and many things can happen along the way.

s. It’s not something we’ll have in our phones anytime soon…

a. No, but this also explains the great challenges that a quantum computer must be able to overcome. The phone in your hands is now more powerful than the computers that used to monitor the first man to walk on the moon. The progress has been great. The next step, moving to the big numbers, is always more difficult.

Haroche, after the interview.
Haroche, after the interview.Silvina Fridlowski (Sylvina Fridlowski)

s. What has changed in the way science is done in our century?

a. Scientists like Einstein or Schrödinger were supported, and they had a good salary. It is true that the cost of the investigation was lower at that time, but things became more difficult and more expensive. The competition among scholars also became stronger; Now we have tens of thousands of people vying for very limited funding. It has become more and more difficult to work in the entire system. It’s a problem: we need young people to invest their creativity in science, but the opportunities for them are very limited.

s. What is the role of politics in the investigation?

a. Governments must understand that science is a long-term adventure. What is lacking is a long-term commitment to science that should not depend on political changes. We tend to think that this happens in countries with unstable political systems, but we see it in other places, such as the United States. Science has been in really bad shape during the Trump administration, and that’s very worrying, because we need science to tackle the challenges we face today, like climate change. We need consistent politics to be strong for decades, and this cannot happen without political commitment.

s. Do you consider that science has lost its authority over today’s world?

a. yes. Science is threatened. Scholars question the facts that govern our time. But this is a logical doubt, it is based on challenging the theory when it does not explain a fact. This is why conspiracy theories are anomalous: they are based on the idea that we can challenge everything with opinions, and that opinions are as valid as theory.

s. why is that?

a. I think the explanation has to be offered by anthropology or sociology, but one explanation could be that we are entering a dangerous phase of globalization, which has left people aside, feeling helpless and isolated from the promised developments of our world. So they began to criticize everything. Then you can form small communities, bubbles that share beliefs. It is very difficult to include scientific tools in this because science is universal, it is for everyone because it is objective and rational.

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