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Materion's Connection to the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics

When Materion's Dr. Edgar Vidal was exchanging emails with Dr. David J. Wineland, physicist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in February 2011 about the use of beryllium in his experiments, neither knew what the future would hold.    

On October 9, the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2012 was awarded to Wineland, who shared the prize with Serge Haroche of the Collège de France and École Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, for their work in quantum optics. In announcing the winners, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited the Nobel Laureates "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems." 

During their initial conversations, Vidal, Manager Market and Business Development, Materion Brush Beryllium & Composites, discovered that Wineland and other researchers at NIST were using beryllium wire fabricated by the Company years earlier.  While only a very small amount is used in this application, Vidal offered to provide higher purity beryllium at no cost in order to help Wineland with his quantum computing research. 

Both laureates study the fundamental interaction between light and matter, a field which has seen considerable progress since the mid-1980s. Haroche controls and measures trapped photons, or particles of light, by sending atoms through a trap. Wineland traps electrically charged beryllium atoms, or ions, controlling and measuring them with light, or photons.

Quantum mechanics predicts that matter behaves much differently as compared to what we perceive in everyday life. In quantum mechanics a particle can exist simultaneously at different locations or at different energies—there is nothing analogous to this in classical physics. Scientists have determined that this quantum effect can be utilized in computing thus offering the promise of much greater computing power than obtainable from traditional digital computers.

The particles used for a quantum computer must be small enough so that their quantum nature is dominant. These particles are assembled, brought to certain energy levels and then stimulated and observed. Also, as a practical matter, they must be easily manipulated so that they can be arranged as needed. Beryllium, by virtue of its atomic size and structure, is the ideal element for this research.

The Nobel citation notes that Wineland and Haroche's methods have enabled science to take "the very first steps towards building a new type of super fast computer based on quantum physics. Perhaps the quantum computer will change our everyday lives in this century in the same radical way as the classical computer did in the last century. The research has also led to the construction of extremely precise clocks that could become the future basis for a new standard of time, with more than 100-fold greater precision than present-day cesium clocks."

We can be proud that Materion produced the beryllium that played a part in these groundbreaking experiments, and has played another role in helping to take science where it has never been before.

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