He graduated from the
Complutense University of Madrid in 1988 and moved to the United States in 1991 to work as a postdoctoral scientist with
Peter Zoller in the
Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in
University of Colorado at Boulder. Between 1991 and 1996, he was teaching physics in the Ciudad Real Faculty of Chemistry, University of Castilla-La Mancha.
In 1996, he became professor in the Institut für Theoretische Physik in Innsbruck, Austria, and in 2001 he became a director of the
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, where he heads the Theory Division. At the same time, he was appointed
Honorary Professor at the
Technical University of Munich. He is a Distinguished Visiting Professor and Research Advisor at
ICFO - the Institute of Photonic Sciences in
Barcelona since its foundation in 2002. He has been a member of research teams at the universities of
Technical University of Munich,
École Normale Supérieure,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His research is focused on quantum optics, the quantum theory of information and quantum many-body physics. According to his theories,
quantum computing will revolutionize the information society and lead to much more efficient and secure communication of information. His joint work with Peter Zoller on ion trap quantum computation opened up the possibility of experimental quantum computation, and his joint work on optical lattices jumpstarted the field of quantum simulation. He has also made seminal contributions in the fields of quantum information theory, degenerated quantum gases, quantum optics, and renormalization group methods.
 As of 2017 Juan Ignacio Cirac has published more than 440 articles in the most prestigious journals
 and is one of the most cited authors in his fields of research.
Ignacio Cirac has been granted multiple awards, notable ones being the 2006
Prince of Asturias Award
BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award
 in the Basic Sciences category ex aequo with
Peter Zoller, and
The Franklin Institute's 2010
Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics (jointly with
David J. Wineland and
Peter Zoller). He was awarded the
Wolf Prize in Physics with Peter Zoller in 2013
. In 2018 he received the
Max Planck Medal of the
German Physical Society