Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for their groundbreaking experiments that have significantly contributed to humanity’s understanding of the intricate world of electrons within atoms and molecules, as reported by the New York Times.
The study of electrons’ rapid movements within atoms and molecules necessitates the use of a unit of measurement known as “attoseconds” – a millionth of a trillionth of a second. The laureates’ experiments successfully demonstrated the observation and quantification of these attosecond pulses, representing a remarkable leap in our understanding of the quantum realm.
The awarding committee emphasizes that these experiments have showcased the capture and study of these astonishingly brief bursts of light. Eva Olsson, the chair of the Nobel committee for Physics, highlights the profound implications of attosecond science, noting that it “allows us to address fundamental questions.” One such question pertains to the time scale of the photoelectric effect, for which Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
To provide a sense of scale, an attosecond is equivalent to one-millionth of a trillionth of a second. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, responsible for awarding the physics prize, illustrates the magnitude of this unit by equating the number of attoseconds in one second to the number of seconds that have passed since the universe’s inception approximately 13.8 billion years ago.
With attosecond science now within our grasp, the Nobel committee declares on the social platform X that “these short bursts of light can be used to study the movements of electrons.”
Each laureate brings a wealth of expertise to this pioneering work. Pierre Agostini holds the title of emeritus professor at Ohio State University, while Ferenc Krausz serves as the director of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany and holds a professorship in experimental physics at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Anne L’Huillier is a distinguished professor at Lund University in Sweden.
In their commendation, the awarding committee praises the laureates for their demonstration of a method to generate extremely brief pulses of light, enabling the measurement of rapid processes in which electrons undergo energy state changes or traverse within atoms and molecules. This breakthrough has unlocked the ability to investigate processes of unparalleled speed that were once considered beyond the purview of scientific scrutiny.