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“Fundamental work was the obvious thing to do,” said Anton Zeilinger about the beginnings of his scientific career. The fundamental work centred around quantum mechanics, a field of study initially dismissed by Albert Einstein, but which was slowly getting noticed by physicists in the 1970s. The notion of entangled quantum states, where two or more particles upon measurement instantly achieve the same polarization regardless of the distance between them (Zeilinger likens this to a pair of dice that always ends up with the same number of dots) was a theoretical idea that was proven correct by the experiments of John Clauser, Alain Aspect, and Anton Zeilinger.

Zeilinger’s curiosity led him together with his collaborators Danny Greenberger and Mike Horne to design experiments with more than two entangled photons. With the tools developed along the way, despite at first being sceptical about what he viewed as a purely theoretical experiment, he was able to demonstrate entanglement swapping and quantum teleportation – transferring one photon’s quantum state to another photon. In a series of experiments, he and his group proved that quantum teleportation works at long distances, culminating in 143 km between the Canary Islands La Palma and Tenerife. The decades of experimental work opened up research towards potential quantum technologies, the very ambitious goals being quantum cryptography and quantum computation. During his Nobel Lecture, Zeilinger emphasised that science should never be rushed and carrying out groundbreaking experiments takes time.

Anton Zeilinger was born on 20 May 1945 in Ried im Innkreis, Austria. He studied physics and mathematics at the University of Vienna, earning his PhD degree in 1971. From 1972 to 1983, Zeilinger was a researcher working on neutron quantum optics at the Atominstitut in Vienna, becoming Assistant Professor in 1979. Between 1981 and 1983, he was a visiting Associate Professor at MIT. In 1983, Zeilinger was appointed Associate Professor at the Vienna University of Technology, where he remained until 1990. He then joined the faculty at the University of Innsbruck as Professor of Experimental Physics. Zeilinger returned to his alma mater in 1999 and has been Professor Emeritus since 2013. Until 2022, Zeilinger served as President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He still actively conducts cutting edge research with his group at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna, focussing on the idea of information being the most fundamental concept in physics.