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Balzan prizes honour research on ‘spooky action at a distance’ and infectious bacteria


Alain Aspect
CREDIT: International Balzan Prize Foundation

A physicist and a bacteriologist, both French, have claimed two of this year’s Balzan prizes, each worth 750,000 Swiss francs (US$ 800,000), the Italo-Swiss International Balzan Prize Foundation announced today.

Physicist Alain Aspect of the École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, is being honoured “for his pioneering experiments which led to a striking confirmation of quantum mechanics as opposed to local hidden-variable theories,” a statement by the foundation said. In the 1980s Aspect dazzled the physics community by demonstrating an effect that Albert Einstein had derisively named ‘spooky action at a distance’.

In 1935, Einstein, in work with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, had shown theoretically that quantum theory predicts that two particles can have their quantum states ‘entangled’, so that altering the state of one of the particle seemingly affects the state of the other particle instantaneously — something the three physicists regarded as a paradox that proved that quantum physics was wrong or, at best, incomplete. After Aspect’s first proof of principle, the EPR effect has now become a staple of ‘quantum weirdness’ experiments, and is at the heart of so-called quantum teleportation.


Pascale Cossart
CREDIT: International Balzan Prize Foundation

Aspect is a previous recipient of several awards, including the Wolf Prize.

Bacteriologist Pascale Cossart of the Pasteur Institute in Paris was recognized “for her seminal discoveries on the molecular biology of pathogenic bacteria and their interaction with host cells”, the Balzan foundation statement said.  Cossart’s most celebrated achievement was that she worked out how the intracellular bacteria pathogen Listeria monocytogenes enters and takes over host cells. She has previously been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Robert Koch prize.

Ewen Callaway contributed reporting.


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