Apart from his "seminal" work in proposing methods to use trapped ions for quantum computing, Zoller is also honoured by the ICTP for "describing how to realize the Bose-Hubbard model and associated phase transitions in ultracold gases". The Bose--Hubbard model is commonly used to describe how bosons behave in an "optical lattice" -- a regular, 3D crystal-like potential created by a web of interfering laser beams. Zoller has been a key figure in the burgeoning field of quantum information, having, for example, devised several protocols for quantum communication based on entangling two or more ultracold atoms.

The Dirac medal, worth $5000, has been awarded every year since 1985 by the ICTP, which is based in Trieste, Italy. Nobel laureates and winners of the Fields medal or Wolf prize are not eligible for the award. Dirac was a close friend of the ITCP form the centre's early days in the early 1960s until his death in 1984.