HomeTechnologyMontreal professor Gilles Brassard, quantum physics titan won a science prize

Montreal professor Gilles Brassard, quantum physics titan won a science prize

Montreal professor Gilles Brassard, quantum physics titan won a science prize

As billions of dollars pour into quantum computing and countries build communication networks secured by quantum encryption, the prominence of quantum information science has become increasingly hard to ignore.

This year’s Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics honors four pioneers who combined math, computer science and physics to do “foundational work in the field of quantum information.” The prize is shared between Charles Bennett of IBM, Gilles Brassard of the University of Montreal, David Deutsch of the University of Oxford and Peter Shor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In an announcement from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation on Thursday, Prof. Brassard was named a co-winner of the US$3-million award, together with U.S.-based researchers Charles Bennett and Peter Schor and David Deutsch of the U.K.

All four are known for their discoveries at the boundaries of quantum physics and information science, a once esoteric exploration that began in the early 1980s that has since morphed into an ambitious and potentially world-changing quest to develop quantum computers at commercial scale.

The award is just the latest for various members of the group, including Dr. Brassard who in 2018 won the prestigious Wolf Prize in physics, together with Dr. Bennett, a long-time collaborator who is affiliated with IBM research.

Both are considered likely contenders for future Nobel Prize for coming up with quantum key distribution – a practical way that information can be sent securely and then decoded using a digital key that is tied to the quantum properties of a physical system. Any attempt to eavesdrop on the transaction will disturb the quantum nature of the key so that it can no longer be used.

Dr. Deutsch, a professor at Oxford University, is known for recasting the principles of computer science in a quantum framework. Although it was far from clear if devices that operated on such principles could be made to work, their potential power was demonstrated in the 1990s by Dr. Schor, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT. It was Dr. Schor who showed that a quantum computer could be programmed to factor large numbers at a speed that would quickly break down RSA encryption – the method by which much of the world’s digital information, including financial transactions, is kept private.

Robert Myers, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., called the entire quartet of winners “a wonderful choice” for the Breakthrough Prize, which is awarded annually for achievements in physics, mathematics and life sciences.

“I think it recognizes something that’s been growing and growing,” Dr. Myers said. “These are the people who set the foundations for quantum information.”

This article was first reported by the Globe and Mail.