The Washington Post

Federal employee wins Nobel Prize in physics


Congratulations to federal employee David Wineland for winning the Nobel Prize in physics.

David Wineland, after learning he and Serge Haroche of France were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics. (MARK LEFFINGWELL/REUTERS)

Wineland was awarded the prize, which he shares with Serge Haroche of the Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.”

Thomas O’Brian, chief NIST’s time and frequency division, explained what that means at a news briefing Tuesday. O’Brian said projects Wineland “has worked on are related to making better atomic clocks. Atomic clocks are involved in modern technology infrastructure in all different kinds of ways, from GPS that pretty much everyone has on his or her cell phone now, to telecommunication systems and a whole host of other things.”

Wineland said many people share in the prize, including his NIST colleagues.

“Obviously, it’s a great honor,” he added. “I don’t have any plans of changing my course of action until they drag me out of here for being too old. But I think the thing to say is, you know, the real reward is the science itself and the work with our colleagues and that’s what keeps us going, not the awards you sometimes get along the way.”

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.


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