A Breakthrough Prize for Gilles Brassard

Gilles Brassard Credit: Amélie Philibert

Gilles Brassard Credit: Amélie Philibert

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Renowned quantum cryptographer Gilles Brassard has won the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, a first for an UdeM professor.

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One of the world’s most prestigious scientific prizes has been awarded to Gilles Brassard, a professor in Université de Montréal’s Department of Computer Science and Operations Research and a Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information Science.

Dubbed the "Oscars of Science," Breakthrough Prizes recognize scientists from around the world who have made seminal contributions to human knowledge. The Fundamental Physics category honours physicists exploring the deepest mysteries of the universe.

This year the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics has been awarded to Brassard and his colleague Charles H. Bennett at the IBM Research Center in New York State.

"Professor Brassard is a pioneer in quantum computing, a visionary researcher who has paved the way for a true revolution in his field," said UdeM rector Daniel Jutras. "The extremely prestigious award he receives today recognizes his contribution to science and the international impact of his discoveries. It is a source of great pride for Université de Montréal to have a professor of his caliber in our community."

Ground-breaking advances

Brassard and Bennett are long-time collaborators who in 1984 developed the first quantum cryptography protocol for encrypting information to ensure confidentiality. This was an unprecedented advance at the interface of physics and computer science that showed how the two fields, once conceived as light-years apart, are essentially two sides of the same coin.

The discovery had enormous implications, generating out of thin air and in just five year a completely new billion-dollar-a-year industry. Today, practically all financial transactions and communications, including sensitive emails and also regular emails, use quantum cryptography.

In 1993, Brassard, Bennett and their collaborators succeeded in teleporting photons a short distance. This phenomenon, known as quantum teleportation, is unquestionably the most intriguing property of quantum information, not to mention the basis of all quantum information technologies.

Brassard and Bennett’s visionary work has shaped the future of not only information processing but also physics and computer science in general. Their historic discoveries represent a break with classical thinking, proving once again that fundamental research can have profound benefits for society.

A star professor

Brassard is considered one of the world’s most brilliant computer scientists. He was a mathematical prodigy who began a bachelor’s in computer science at Université de Montréal at the age of 13. He went on to become an assistant professor at UdeM at age 24 and a full professor at 33.

Brassard has received numerous awards over the years, including the Rank Prize, the Wolf Prize in Physics (considered second only to the Nobel Prize), the Micius Quantum Prize and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award.

He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Ordre national du Québec. He is one of only a few French-speaking Quebecers to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, joining the ranks of historically eminent scientists like Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

At home in Canada, Brassard has been honoured with the Killam Prize, the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Prix Marie-Victorin and the Prix Acfas Urgel-Archambault.

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