The Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences awarded the 2006 Kuwait Prize in Basic Sciences to Professor Bahaa Saleh, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Deputy Director of the Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems.
The foundation awards two prizes annually, one for Kuwaiti citizens and the other for citizens of Arab countries, in each of five fields: basic sciences, this year in the specialty of optical science, applied sciences and three humanities disciplines. The science awards acknowledge significant intellectual achievements and scientific advancements.
Saleh’s contributions to optical science include extensive research in squeezed and entangled light. Squeezing light can remove its random fluctuations, forcing individual photons to behave in more regular, predictable ways. The technique is akin to restricting the random flow of traffic by requiring 100 feet between cars on a highway. With many cars on the road, a regular pattern will develop. Saleh was the first to achieve this regular stream of photons in experiments, reducing randomness by enforcing an effective photon repulsion.
A second area of Saleh’s interest, light entanglement, involves studying the mysterious connection between pairs of photons. If two entangled photons separate as they are emitted from a light source and travel in opposite directions, quantum physicists have found that observing one of the twins affects the other, despite the physical separation. Einstein didn’t believe this, calling the phenomenon “spooky action at a distance,” but today’s quantum physicists do, calling into question long-held perceptions of the reality of the world around us. The fundamental and philosophical questions in this area of research intrigue Saleh.
“In engineering, we want to understand how the world behaves in the deepest possible ways, but we are also interested in how properties of the world can be exploited to design systems that have benefit for us,” he said.
Applications of Saleh’s work in quantum entanglement include metrology — using light to measure surface properties of materials — and biological imaging. Specifically, Saleh works on optical coherence tomography, a medical diagnostic method that uses light to create three-dimensional images, for example sections of the retina. His work, together with Professors Malvin Teich and Alexander Sergienko, at BU’s Quantum Imaging Laboratory aims at improving this method and may lead to the ability to capture higher resolution images with greater diagnostic power.
Saleh, a native of Egypt, will travel to Kuwait to deliver a lecture and receive the prize from the Amir of Kuwait later this year.