"There are a lot of things to learn at the fundamental level and there are so many potential applications it is very hard to see which ones will happen. Maybe some kind of computer, some kind of useful quantum simulations, or some kind of communications," Haroche said of his own research.
As for Wineland's work, that could give rise to clocks 100 times more accurate than today's atomic clocks.
"They can measure gravitational shift with very high precision. The clock could be used to measure anomalies in the gravitational field for geology or earthquake detection," Haroche said.
Wineland and Haroche, both born in 1944, will share the prize of 8 million Swedish krona.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org.