David J. Wineland

David J. Wineland
David J. Wineland
  • From:

    National Institute of Standards and Technology | Boulder, Colorado

  • Year:


  • Subject:


  • Award:

    Benjamin Franklin Medal

  • Citation:

    With J. Ignacio Cirac and Peter Zoller, for their theoretical proposal and experimental realization of the first device that performs elementary computer-logic operations using the quantum properties of individual atoms.

In 1994 Ignacio Cirac and Peter Zoller proposed an experiment to construct a quantum computing device, which used quantum effects to perform computational functions, using cold trapped ions. General ideas of quantum computing had been discussed for several years—the idea of using particles to create a computer with entirely new powers was first suggested in the 1980s by Richard Feynman. Not only would a quantum computer be very powerful, but it would allow for solving problems that a typical binary computer cannot, since quantum effects allow for the simultaneous processing of many possible answers to a logical question, as opposed to considering them sequentially. Cirac and Zoller's concrete description of a realistic quantum logic gate, the fundamental device in the computer that operates logic functions, included such meticulous detail that David Wineland and coworkers were able to build their machine within a year. It was the first demonstration of computer logic functions that exploited the laws of quantum mechanics at the level of individual atoms, thus establishing that quantum computing—with its potential for much more powerful computers—may be possible.

Biographical Information

Born in California, David Wineland received his B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1970. He joined the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) in 1975, where he remains as a Fellow in the Time and Frequency Division. He also holds a lectureship at the University of Colorado. In 1973 Wineland caught the attention of the scientific community when he helped to isolate a single electron. At NIST, he went on to perform the first successful laser cooling work—in 1978 he used lasers to bring magnesium ions down to below 40K. Since then Wineland has continued to be at the forefront of research to use laser-cooled ions to test quantum physics theories and to create the building blocks for quantum computers.

Wineland's awards include the Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the Society of Optical and Quantum Electronics' Einstein Medal for Laser Science, the APS's Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science, the International Award on Quantum Communications, the Optical Society of America's Frederic Ives Award, and the National Medal of Science.

Information as of April 2010