Gilles Brassard

Computer scientist wins world’s largest science prize for work in quantum information

Université de Montréal Professor Gilles Brassard, a global leader in quantum cryptography, has been awarded the prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics – the world’s largest science award.

The computer scientist shares the three million USD Breakthrough Prize for 2023 with co-winners and colleagues, Charles H. Bennett (IBM Research), David Deutsch (University of Oxford) and Peter Shor (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) “for foundational work in the field of quantum information”.

In 1984, Prof. Brassard and Dr. Bennett, a chemical physicist, developed the first quantum cryptography protocol – an unbreakable encryption scheme – as a way to protect data communications.

The significance of their work became clear a decade later when Dr. Shor, a mathematician, discovered that a hypothetical quantum computer could penetrate the cryptographic systems currently used to protect Internet communications.

Data communications systems didn’t collapse following Dr. Shor’s discovery, because a quantum computer had not yet been built (as far as we know). But technology has rapidly advanced, Prof. Brassard notes, and a quantum computer will eventually arise. It’s no longer a question of if, but of when.

When that finally happens, quantum cryptography will be the only guaranteed way to protect online communications, including our financial information systems. Essentially, Prof. Brassard and Dr. Bennett had developed a cure 10 years before the ailment was discovered.

Today, “quantum cryptography is on the rise”, he says of the current impact of the discovery. “It’s more and more widely studied and implemented and used, even using real life now. Nobody would have predicted this 10 years ago.”

In 1992, Prof. Brassard and Dr. Bennett, along with their collaborators, including fellow Canadian Claude Crépeau, invented the theoretical concept of quantum teleportation. This phenomenon, confirmed experimentally by other researchers a few years later, is a fundamental pillar of quantum information theory.

Prof. Brassard was a mathematical prodigy, beginning a bachelor’s in computer science at the age of 13. His numerous past awards include the Wolf Prize in Physics, considered second only to the Nobel Prize, and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in basic sciences.

Learn more about the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

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