Quantum physics work scoops Nobel

This year's Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded for research that could lead to a new generation of extremely fast computers and highly accurate clocks.

Serge Haroche, of France, and David Wineland, of the US, share the prize for their work on quantum physics - in which particles of light and matter behave in unusual ways.

At a scale too small to see with the naked eye, down at the level of atoms and photons, the normal rules of matter and light that we are familiar with break down and the behaviour of the smallest of particles is frankly bizarre - for example they can exist in different states at the same time.

Even Albert Einstein described this quantum world as 'spooky'. One of the stranger features is that looking at an individual particle changes how it behaves - and until the 90s there was no way round that.

Haroche and Wineland have found ways of isolating and studying these particles - and their work is recognised as having opened the door to entirely new areas of research.

Computers based on quantum physics would be far faster than anything we have now and the Nobel judges say they could change our lives as radically this century as conventional computers did in the last.

Already the oddities of the quantum world have been harnessed in clocks, 100 times more accurate than atomic clocks - so much so that if one had started ticking at the time of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, it would only have lost about five seconds.