Press Release

Jian-Wei Pan to receive ZEISS Research Award

20 April 2020

  • Groundbreaking advancements in quantum cryptography
  • Additional awards for young researchers
Oberkochen, Germany | 20 April 2020 | ZEISS Group

Jian-Wei Pan, Professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, in Hefei, is the winner of the prestigious ZEISS Research Award 2020. He is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of quantum technology. One of the most remarkable results of Jian-Wei Pan's research is the distribution of entangled photons over a distance of 1,200 km, by far the longest distance ever reached. He achieved this using a light source that is installed on a satellite and emits entangled photons.

©Prof. Jian-Wei Pan;  University of Science and Technology of China, professor,  winner of the ZEISS Research Award 2020

Prof. Jian-Wei Pan

Entangled photons can be used as a resource for many applications. They can be used in conjunction with quantum cryptography to enable two parties to exchange a secret key. According to the laws of quantum mechanics, key exchange security is based on this: every attempt made by an eavesdropper to read the exchanged photons disrupts their quantum state, and can be discovered by the communicating parties. If a secret key is exchanged, it can be used to encrypt an email or secure a bank transfer.
In contrast to quantum cryptography, classic key exchange processes are based on the assumption that certain mathematical problems are difficult to solve. If a computer's performance increases faster than anticipated, or a faster algorithm is found to solve these mathematical problems, security can no longer be guaranteed. Professor Pan's research could therefore help to make our communication more tap-proof in the future.

In addition, Jian-Wei Pan has also contributed significantly to the development of optical quantum computing. He creates complex quantum states of light, such as ensembles of up to ten entangled photons, or indistinguishable photons from many simultaneously operating single photon sources to perform boson sampling experiments. These experiments lay important foundations for optical quantum computing. The research work shows a way to scale up such systems and thus to make practical use of their advantages.

ZEISS Research Award 2020

The ZEISS Research Award is presented every two years and has been allocated 40,000 euros in prize money. The selected candidates should have already demonstrated outstanding achievements in the field of optics or photonics. They should still be actively conducting research, and their work should offer major potential for gaining further knowledge and enabling practical applications.

The ZEISS Research Award is normally presented during the ZEISS Symposium, which is also held every two years. In light of the current developments related to the coronavirus, ZEISS has decided to postpone the Symposium until next year. It was set to take place on 17 June 2020 in Oberkochen. This decision was prompted by planning uncertainty, and was made above all in the interests and for the protection of our guests, speakers and all others involved. The ZEISS Research Award will be presented to Professor Jian-Wei Pan during the 2021 Symposium.

This year's high-profile jury comprises the following members:

  • Jürgen Mlynek, Humboldt University of Berlin, Former President of the Helmholtz Association, Chairman of the Jury
  • Alain Aspect, Institut d’Optique Palaiseau (France)
  • Stefan Hell, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen; winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014 and the Carl Zeiss Research Award in 2002
  • Ulrich Simon, Head of Corporate Research and Technology, Carl Zeiss AG
  • Andreas Tünnermann, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering in Jena

Initiated and funded by Carl Zeiss AG, the ZEISS Research Award is the successor to the Carl Zeiss Research Award that honored outstanding achievements in international optical research every two years from 1990 onward. Many Carl Zeiss Research Award winners went on to obtain further awards and distinctions; four of them were even honored with the Nobel Prize:

  • Ahmed H. Zewail, winner in 1992: Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999
  • Eric A. Cornell, winner in 1996: Nobel Prize for Physics in 2001
  • Shuji Nakamura, winner in 2000: Nobel Prize for Physics in 2014
  • Stefan Hell, winner in 2002: Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014

Carl Zeiss Award for Young Researchers

Since 2016, independently of the ZEISS Research Award, the Ernst Abbe Foundation in the Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany has been presenting a research award with a focus on up-and-coming talent: the Carl Zeiss Award for Young Researchers. The award has been allocated prize money totaling 21,000 euros and will be shared equally among three winners, with each receiving 7,000 euros. The winners in 2020 are:

  • Dr. Christian Haffner, University of Maryland and National Institute of Standards and Technology, USA
  • Dr. Stefan Heist, Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Germany
  • Dr. Fabian Wolf, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Brunswick, Germany

These young talent awards will also be presented at the postponed Symposium in 2021.

Further information


Press contact Jörg Nitschke Head of Corporate Brand and Communications ZEISS Group


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