OSA | Living History

David J. Wineland

OSA Honorary Member David J. Wineland was born 24 February 1944 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, USA. He is an American physicist who was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics for devising methods to study the Anchorquantum mechanical behaviour of individual ions. He shared the prize with French physicist Serge Haroche.

Wineland received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965 and a doctorate in physics from Harvard University in 1970. He was then a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, and from 1975 he worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

Wineland’s work concentrated on studying individual ions trapped in an electric field. Beginning in 1978, he and his collaborators used laser pulses of light at specific wavelengths to cool the ions to their lowest energy state, and in 1995 they placed the ions in a superposition of two different quantum states. Placing an ion in a superposed state allowed the study of quantum mechanical behaviour that had previously only been the subject of thought experiments, such as the famous Schrödinger’s cat.

On the practical side, Wineland’s group in 1995 used trapped ions to perform logical operations in one of the first demonstrations of quantum computing. In the early 2000s, Wineland’s group used trapped ions to create an atomic clock much more accurate than those using cesium. In 2010 they used their clock to test Einstein’s theory of relativity on very small scales, detecting Anchortime dilation at speeds of only 36 km (22 miles) per hour and gravitational time dilation between two clocks spaced vertically only 33 cm (13 inches) apart. 

In 2016, Wineland participated in OSA's Ignite the Future program along with six other Nobel laureates in celebration of the Optical Society's Centennial. 

In 2017, Wineland joined the University of Oregon in the Department of Physics as a Knight Research Professor. Also in 2017, he was named as an Honorary Member of the Optical Society “for pioneering advances in laser cooling of ions together with unprecedented control of individual ions in foundational experiments of quantum optica and quantum information.” He is the recipient of the 2004 Frederic Ives Medal, the 2009 Herbert Walther Award, and the 1990 William F. Meggers Award. Wineland became a Fellow of OSA in 1990.


I'm involved in this business of quantum information I feel I'm really very optimistic that there will be some good things come out of that. Of course this started, got a big wave of support starting about 20 years ago now, mainly for the potential applications in Cryptography. I feel one of the really interesting things that's on the hopefully not too far horizon is this idea of simulation. 

David Wineland, 2016 Ignite the Future Probel


Document Created: 4 May 2017
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2019