The Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 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"
The world of electrons operates at an astonishingly rapid pace, with events unfolding in mere tenths of an attosecond. To put this into perspective, there are as many attoseconds in a single second as there have been seconds since the universe's inception.
In a groundbreaking scientific endeavor, researchers Pierre Agostini (Ohio State University), Ferenc Krausz (Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Germany), and Anne L'Huillier (Lund University, Sweden) have made remarkable strides in the realm of attosecond physics. Their work has paved the way for the generation of ultra-short light pulses, measured in these mind-bogglingly tiny units known as attoseconds.
These ultrafast "attosecond pulses" have opened a gateway to capturing images of processes occurring within the intricate world of atoms and molecules. Eva Olsson, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, expressed the significance of this achievement, stating, "We can now unlock the mysteries of the electron realm. Attosecond physics provides us with the unique opportunity to unravel the mechanisms governed by electrons. The next phase will be harnessing this knowledge for practical applications."
The foundation for this groundbreaking research was laid by Anne L'Huillier back in 1987 when she made a pivotal discovery. By passing infrared laser light through a noble gas, she generated various overtones of light. Each overtone represented a light wave with a specific number of cycles corresponding to those in the laser light. These overtones were a result of the laser light's interaction with the gas's atoms, which provided certain electrons with extra energy, subsequently emitted as light.
In 2001, Pierre Agostini achieved a milestone by producing and examining a series of consecutive light pulses, each lasting a mere 250 attoseconds. Simultaneously, Ferenc Krausz conducted a separate experiment that allowed him to isolate a single light pulse lasting 650 attoseconds.
Commenting on this significant announcement, physicist Professor Mete Atature from the University of Cambridge remarked, "The news of the 2023 Nobel Prize winners in Physics is truly exceptional. These three outstanding scientists—Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L'Huillier—initiated a decades-long effort to comprehend the workings of the world on the shortest timescale we've ever reached: the attosecond. They have propelled this field forward over the years and are deserving recipients of this prestigious award."
Professor Atature highlighted how the pursuit of short, intense pulses over decades has enabled us to gain insights into matter's behavior at ever shorter timescales. These pulses serve as our highest-resolution tools for understanding the fundamental workings of the world, leading to concepts like femtochemistry, which earned Professor Zewail the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Thanks to these short pulses, we've uncovered the intricate movements and interactions of atoms within molecules during chemical reactions.
The 2023 Nobel Prize acknowledges the remarkable achievement of exploring a timescale more than a thousand times shorter—the attosecond world. This achievement opens an entirely new window into observing how individual electrons move inside matter while preserving their full quantum mechanical properties. Although this research has various potential applications, its primary recognition lies in its contribution to fundamental scientific understanding.
The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2023 celebrates the pioneering work in attosecond physics, unlocking the secrets of the microscopic world and providing unprecedented insights into the quantum realm of electrons.