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Optics Award Announced

Two Latin American scientists share this year's ICO/ICTP prize

ICO/ICTP Prize winners John Fredy Barrera Ramirez and Maria Florencia Pascual Winter (centre) with Ahmadou Wague, Angela Guzman, and college local organizers Joe Niemela and Miltcho Danailov
ICO/ICTP Prize winners John Fredy Barrera Ramirez and Maria Florencia Pascual Winter (centre) with Ahmadou Wague, Angela Guzman, and college local organizers Joe Niemela and Miltcho Danailov

19/02/2014 - Trieste, Italy

ICTP and the International Commission for Optics (ICO) have announced the recipients of their 2014 ICO/ICTP Gallieno Denardo Award. This year's award recognizes the work of two optics researchers from Latin America, and were announced at the Centre's annual Winter College on Optics.

Maria Florencia Pascual Winter (CONICET and Instituto Balseiro,  Bariloche, Argentina) investigates the use of light to store and transfer information in a way that could supercharge the processing speed of computers.  Her work relates to the field of quantum computing, which seeks to rely on the power of atoms and molecules (as opposed to today's silicon-based, transistor computers) to perform memory and processing tasks.

A crucial challenge to light-based memory is how to stop and retrieve the bits of information called quantum bits (qbits) in a way that does not compromise their coherence. Pascual Winter explains, "To get the q-bit to stay in memory we play with optical and microwave tools that are tuned to different transitions between electronic levels in the atoms that are in the memory, so we try to figure out how to capture them and how to make them stay there and then how to re-emit the information after the storage time."

Pascual Winter shares this year's prize with John Fredy Barrera Ramírez (Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia) an ICTP Junior Associate who is pursuing optical encryption research in order to come up with ways to protect data. His work focusses on the use of quick-response codes, or QR codes, the ubiquitous square bar codes that are used for advertising and packaging and can be read by smartphones. Barrera Ramírez is investigating how to use the QR codes to transmit encrypted information.

"This type of encryption provides some important advantages over standard data encryption techniques," says Barrera Ramírez. "For one, it avoids the "noise" that pollutes the outcomes of standard encryption techniques, and the codes are generated by free, widely available software." Barrera Ramírez's work, which has been funded in the past by The World Academy of Science (TWAS), was recently highlighted in that organization's Annual Report.

Barrera Ramírez credits his association with both ICTP and TWAS as crucial to his career development. "As an ICTP Junior Associate, I can come to Trieste for one or two months and accomplish more than I could do in a year back home, thanks to the resources and the experts here," he says.

ICTP and the ICO established the award to recognize researchers under 40 years of age from a developing country who have made significant contributions to the field of optics.

The recipient receives a certificate, US $1,000, and an invitation to participate in and deliver a lecture at an ICTP activity relevant to optics.

The award is named in honour of Gallieno Denardo, who coordinated optics activities at ICTP for more than twenty years.

For more details, please see the award web page.

During the awards ceremony, Anthony Johnson, a representative of the Optical Society of America, which has sponored the annual optics colleges, took the occasion to show OSA's appreciation of the long-standing partnership with ICTP by presenting the Centre with a plaque. "OSA is proud of its history of support to ICTP's colleges; the cooperation has been a distinct pleasure," said Johnson (pictured below with ICTP's Joe Niemela).