Zeilinger has pioneered the study of entanglement — a property of quantum theory that allows two or more particles to display much stronger correlations than are possible in classical physics. Entanglement is what, in principle, could allow quantum computers to outperform conventional computers at some tasks.

His achievements include the first demonstration of quantum communication based on the entanglement of photons in 1995, the first "quantum teleportation" in 1997 and the first quantum cryptography performed with entangled photons in 2000. Earlier this year he led a team that managed to transmit an entangled photon 144 km in free-space, opening the door to satellite-based quantum communication.

Zeilinger, 62, was born in Austria and is currently professor of experimental physics at the University of Vienna as well as scientific director of the Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The Isaac Newton Medal is one of ten new honours launched for 2008 by the Institute. Awarded for "outstanding contributions to physics", the medal differs from the Institute's other 23 awards in not being restricted to physicists working in the UK or Ireland, or to those with strong connections to the two countries.

Each award includes a £2000 prize and will be presented at a ceremony in London on 24 January 2008. A document listing all the 2008 prize-winners can be downloaded (60 kB) from the Institute's website.