Bennett, Brassard, and Wootters are suggested as possible Nobel Prize winners “for their pioneering description of a protocol for quantum teleportation, which has since been experimentally verified”
What unites the three nominees is their research on the fundamental aspects of quantum information. A quantum system handles information completely different to the classical information in a library, or a human brain, or in computer memory. The Heisenberg principle of uncertainty in quantum systems means that information cannot be copied perfectly, and any attempt at measurement injects noise. Despite these restrictions, quantum cryptography has shown great promise. Bennett and Brassard proposed, in 1984, a practical system of cryptography in which uncertainty and quantum entanglement of states provides absolute security of communication. Their research on information transfer via quantum mechanics led Bennett, Brassard and Wootters to the discovery of quantum teleportation, in which a qubit (the basic unit of quantum information) is transmitted from one location to another without anything passing through intervening space. Note, however, that quantum teleportation of information is unrelated to the science fiction concept of teleportation of objects.
The paper suggesting how quantum teleportation can work was published by C. H. Bennett, G. Brassard, C. Crépeau, R. Jozsa, A. Peres and W.K. Wootters in 1993. It now has over 5,300 citations. The method uses an entanglement protocol for the transmission of quantum information through a classical channel.
Bennett received a PhD from Harvard in 1971 for his thesis on the computer simulation of molecular motion. Recruited by IBM Research the following year, he has worked on many aspects of the connection between physics and information. He helped found the quantitative theory of entanglement and introduced several techniques for faithful transmission of classical and quantum information through noisy channels, part of the larger and recently very active field of quantum information and computation theory.
Brassard completed a PhD in the computer science of cryptography at Cornell University in 1979. He has worked at the University of Montreal, Canada, ever since. He and Bennett met as strangers while swimming in the ocean off San Juan, Puerto Rico — an encounter during which Bennett swam up and began describing a scheme for making forgery-proof banknotes via the use of quantum mechanics. The National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada gave Brassard its 2006 Award of Excellence. In his NSERC interview about the award, Brassard recalled that meeting Bennett on the beach “was probably the most bizarre, and certainly the most magical moment in my professional life.” After swimming ashore they worked out the ideas for their joint paper on quantum cryptography (1984).
Wootters earned his PhD in 1980 from the University of Texas, Austin. He is Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy at Williams College, Massachusetts, which he joined thirty years ago. His research has revolved around understanding and quantifying quantum entanglement. His election as a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1999, was for "contributions on the foundations of quantum mechanics and groundbreaking work in quantum information and communications theory."
Commentary on the Physics Laureates by Simon Mitton, Physics correspondent, ScienceWatch