Top awards go to Williams College physics professor William Wootters

December 06, 2006

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Dec. 6, 2006 -- Professor William Wootters is to be honored for his outstanding achievements in physics, not once, but twice in the academic year, by The American Physical Society and by the International Organization for Quantum Communication, Measurement and Computing.

Bill WoottersIn recognition of his pioneering work in quantum theory, the International Organization for Quantum Communication, Measurement and Computing in collaboration with Tamagawa University, bestowed its 2006 International Quantum Communications Award on Wootters at a ceremony in Tsukuba, Japan, Dec. 2. The award is given every two years at the International Conference on Quantum Communication, Measurement, and Computing.

Wootters is the Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy at Williams College. His research specialty, quantum information theory, is the study of information stored or processed in objects that must be described by quantum mechanics, such as individual atoms. Information stored in quantum systems behaves very differently from ordinary information. It cannot, for example, be copied perfectly. Despite these restrictions, this ghostly sort of information could be of great value in "quantum computation" and "quantum cryptography."

Wootters' work on "teleportation" of quantum information has been widely cited in both the scientific and popular press. While his own work is at the most basic and theoretical level, other scientists around the world are seeking to bring these ideas to practical fruition.

Wootters will be awarded The American Physical Society (APS) Prize to a Faculty Member for Research in an Undergraduate Institution at a ceremony in Denver, Co. in March. The prize is the highest national award of its kind. It is given annually to honor a physicist recognized as contributing substantially to physics research and providing inspirational guidance and encouragement to undergraduate students participating in this research.

The APS cited Wootters "for his pioneering work on quantum teleportation, his widely cited contributions to quantum information theory, and his prolific engagement of undergraduate students in this research at the foundation of quantum mechanics."

Physics Department Chair Kevin Jones commented, "Bill Wootters is remarkable for his skill in weaving his teaching and research interests together. He has a knack for identifying interesting problems, is able to explain them clearly and precisely, and then engage beginning researchers in their solution."

In a recent interview Wootters was asked about doing physics research at a small institution like Williams College. "I think both theory and experiment can thrive at an undergraduate institution," he said, "adding that quantum information theory is particularly suitable for this setting because the problems are never very far removed from elementary quantum mechanics." He referred to a metaphor that emerged from a 2003 workshop on theoretical physics research at liberal arts colleges: one can look for good problems "near the trunk" of the discipline as opposed to looking at the ends of the longest branches.

Wootters has been at Williams since 1982 and teaches courses that range from those intended for non-science majors to the most advanced upper level tutorials. With mathematician Susan Loepp he teaches a highly successful interdisciplinary course called "Protecting Information." He and his students have published in prestigious scientific journals, including Physical Review Letters.

In 2000, he was elected as a fellow of the APS for his "contributions on the foundations of quantum mechanics and groundbreaking work in quantum information and communications theory." Wootters received his B.S. from Stanford University in 1973 and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1980.
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The American Physical Society has been the leading voice for the advancement and diffusion of physics nationally and internationally for over 100 years. The APS publishes major scientific journals such as the Physical Review.

This is the 20th year of the QCMC, organized by the National Institute on Information and Communications Technology (NICT). The NICT is a Japanese-based organization seeking to advance both national and international scientific understanding. Its goals include the development of technology to strengthen the economy, health, and the environment.

Williams College is consistently ranked one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. The college's 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in this research. Students' educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment, which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student's financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted. Founded in 1793, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college is located in Williamstown, Mass. To visit the college on the Internet: http://www.williams.edu

Williams College

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