The Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the United States, who both made unique advances in quantum optics, allowing scientists the first chance observe quantum particles in the physical world.
The two new Laureates "independently invented and developed methods for measuring and manipulating individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature." The very nature of quantum physics means that many of the phenomena predicted by its theories cannot be observed directly, but Haroche and Wineland developed new experimental methods that have allowed researchers to isolate quantum particles without destroying them, something once thought impossible.
According to the Nobel committee, Wineland's research has focused on trapping ions and measuring them using photons of light, while Haroche tried the opposite approach, by figuring out how trap the photons themselves.
There had been some speculation that the physics prize would go to Peter Higgs and the scientists behind CERN's Large Hadron Collider, but their groundbreaking discovery of the Higgs boson this summer was too recent to be given the proper consideration. Nominations for the award closed in February and the results of their experiments have barely had time to be fully vetted. There's always next year!
Shinya Yamanaka of Japan and John Gurdon were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday, and the awards for Chemistry, Literature, and Peace will be given out later this week.