BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado physicist David Wineland was all smiles Tuesday as he was congratulated on his Nobel Prize by colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Wineland, who works at the institute and the University of Colorado in Boulder, told reporters he planned to spend some of his Nobel Prize winnings to take friends to Sweden for December's award ceremony.
He also said he will continue his work on perfecting atomic clocks and striving for an ultrafast quantum computer.
Wineland drew laughs when he struggled to silence his cellphone after it rang while he made remarks to the media. A reporter shouted, "You can create an atomic clock, but you can't turn off a cellphone?"
Wineland simply chuckled.
Wineland and Serge Haroche of France shared the Nobel Prize in physics by showing how to observe individual atoms and particles of light called photons. Trapping single atoms could help pave the way to superfast quantum computers.
Wineland said scientists will one day create computers capable of solving more complex problems than those tackled by a "classical computer."
"It will take a lot of hard work and technological advances — maybe decades out," he said.
Wineland enjoyed a pared-down celebration with sparkling apple cider and coffee in the lobby at the institute that has a view of the rock formations known as the Flatirons. Founded in 1901, it is one of the nation's oldest physical science laboratories and operates under the U.S. Commerce Department.
Wineland noted that he'd been working on quantum physics since 1975 at the institute but didn't expect his name to come up when Nobel physics possibilities surfaced this year.
"First of all, a lot of people have been working on advanced computers and atomic clocks for a long time. It's a bit embarrassing to focus on just two individuals," he said. "When they also told me that the prize was shared with a good friend, that was nice to hear."
Each award is worth about $1.2 million.
Haroche is a professor at the College de France and Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.
A native of Wauwatosa, Wis., Wineland earned a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and master's and doctoral degrees in physics at Harvard University. Before joining the institute, Wineland was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington.