Creating the Future
Press release
Hector Science Award 2019


20. January 2020

Nano magnets for Quantum Computers

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Werns­dor­fer is awarded the Hector Science Award

HEIDELBERG/WEINHEIM. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Werns­dor­fer receives this year’s Hector Founda­tion Science award that includes prize money of 150.000 euro. The jury thus acknowl­edges the outstand­ing accom­plish­ments of the 53-year-old physi­cist in the devel­op­ment of quantum comput­ers. With his funda­men­tal research about nanomag­nets and electri­cal circuits, he is consid­ered a pioneer of this futur­is­tic technol­ogy that might one day surpass the comput­ing power of today’s comput­ers. Science and indus­try put much faith into quantum comput­ers in fields as artifi­cial intel­li­gence, complex simula­tion model­ling and data encryp­tion, but also in medicine.

Whereas regular comput­ers operate in bits that can assume the values one or zero, quantum comput­ers small­est comput­ing unit are the so-called qubits, which can also take on values between one and zero. The qubits can conduct many calcu­la­tion steps simul­ta­ne­ously and are thereby many times faster than currently used comput­ers. Wolfgang Werns­dor­fer discov­ered magnetic proper­ties of specific molecules (small­est unit of a chemi­cal compound that consists of differ­ent atoms) that are suitable for quantum comput­ers. As early as the 90s in his doctoral thesis, he devel­oped a device to measure the magnetic attrib­utes of nanomag­nets much faster than any commer­cially avail­able magne­tome­ter. Later, he succeeded in creat­ing the very first molec­u­lar comput­ing circuits used for stabi­liz­ing the system as the qubits are very sensi­tive. They have to be cooled down to temper­a­tures close by the absolute zero (-273,15 °C). Even a single atom out of line can disrupt the qubits.

Wolfgang Wernsdorfer’s background is also quite remark­able, as he grew up with six siblings. His father was a goldsmith – he was destined for a career in artisan­ship. When he was 15 years old, he finished his secondary educa­tion and did an appren­tice­ship as an electri­cian. Later, however, he took his A‑levels and studied physics in Würzburg. After six semes­ters, he received a schol­ar­ship in France. He obtained his doctor­ate and habil­i­ta­tion in Greno­ble, where he became research direc­tor in 2004. Since 2016, the 53-year-old father of four children has been holding a Humboldt Profes­sor­ship at the Karlsruhe Insti­tute of Technol­ogy (KIT). He received many awards for his ground-break­ing research such as the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2019, the most impor­tant research promo­tion prize in Germany.

During the festive award ceremony of the Hector Science Award at Hotel Europäis­cher Hof in Heidel­berg, Prof. Dr. Andreas Meyer-Linden­berg, direc­tor of the Central Insti­tute for Mental Health in Mannheim, praised the laure­ate and his stellar research. He illus­trated the scope of Prof. Dr. Wernsdorfer’s work with a quote by Friedrich Dürren­matt: “The substance of physics concerns the physi­cists; the effect concerns all of humanity.”

The chair­per­son of the Hector Founda­tion Uwe Bleich welcomed Wolfgang Werns­dor­fer as the 25th scien­tist to the circle of Hector Fellows. The goal of the charity – realised through the founda­tion of the Hector Fellow Academy in 2013 — is to promote inter­dis­ci­pli­nary exchange as well as research cooper­a­tion between the Hector Fellows. Further­more, the Hector Fellow Academy offers early career researchers the oppor­tu­nity to work on either an adver­tised project or their own research idea under the super­vi­sion of a Hector Fellow.

This evening, the Hector Fellows also arranged a special surprise for the founder Dr. h.c. Hans-Werner Hector: as a belated present for his 80th birth­day on January 17, they jointly created a commem­o­ra­tive publi­ca­tion honour­ing the founder. On behalf of all Hector Fellows, Prof. Dr. Martin Wegener bestowed the unique copy of the publi­ca­tion to Hans-Werner Hector and expressed his deepest grati­tude for the benefi­cial work of the founda­tion that supports not only science and educa­tion, but also social insti­tu­tions, art and culture.

Press release of the Hector Founda­tion II

Hector Science Award 2019

From left: Dr. h.c. Hans-Werner Hector, Josephine Hector, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wernsdorfer.