Nobel committee honors work that reveals the hidden world of electrons, probing at the atomic timescale for electronic, chemical, and medical applications.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2023 – The 2023 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier “for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter.”
“This work is truly groundbreaking. Attosecond laser pulses reveal the hidden world of electron dynamics within atoms and molecules,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics. “These techniques help us peer inside atoms to the scale of electrons, which were previously moving too fast for us to see — we didn’t have a strobe light fast enough to resolve the motion. This new window into the natural world allows us to probe electron dynamics in atomic and molecular systems, which are at the heart of the chemical and physical interactions of materials that underpin all our electronic, chemical, and medical innovations and technology.”
An attosecond is a billionth of a billionth of a second; this unfathomably short unit of time is needed to measure the duration of the interactions between atoms and electrons. Experiments in this regime were once believed to be impossible, but a series of advances by Agostini, Krausz, and L’Huillier demonstrated their viability and potential. These discoveries allowed researchers to better understand practical applications in ultrafast semiconductor switching, medical analysis of blood plasma, and dynamic control of electrons in materials, the Nobel Committee noted.
Pierre Agostini is an emeritus professor at Ohio State University. In 2001, his team generated and measured a series of consecutive light pulses, in which each pulse lasted only 250 attoseconds. They were able to show that harmonic generation could be a promising source for attosecond time-resolved measurements.
Ferenc Krausz is the director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and a Professor of Experimental Physics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In 2001, his team became the first to create and measure a light pulse lasting less than one femtosecond, marking the birth of attosecond physics.
Anne L’Huillier is a professor of atomic physics at Lund University in Sweden. In 2003, her team beat the world record for the fastest laser pulse, at 170 attoseconds. Her continued work to push the boundaries of attosecond physics has led to advances in the field of photoionization.
“This year’s prize is a spectacular demonstration of pioneering fundamental research pushing past the limits of what we once thought possible,” said AIP Publishing’s Chief Publishing Officer, Penelope Lewis. “Through their remarkable experimental and theoretical approaches to measuring ultrafast electronic dynamics, Agostini, Krausz, and L’Huillier are allowing us to understand essential physical processes at previously unattainable levels of detail.”
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