The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2023 has been awarded to three scientists – Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier – for their pioneering experiments in the field of attosecond physics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recognized their work as providing humanity with new tools to explore the behavior of electrons within atoms and molecules, fundamentally impacting our understanding of chemistry and various scientific fields.
Electrons play a crucial role in chemical processes, and understanding their behavior is essential for explaining how atoms form chemical bonds and create molecules. Using extremely short pulses of light that last only an attosecond (a fraction of a second too small to be perceived), the laureates tracked the movement of electrons in atoms, allowing scientists to gain unprecedented insights into the behavior of these tiny particles.
Attosecond physics holds significant potential for advancing our understanding of electron behavior in various materials, including electrical conductors. It also has applications in fields such as medical diagnostics, biology, and chemistry.
Pierre Agostini, a professor emeritus at Ohio State University, Ferenc Krausz, affiliated with the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and Anne L’Huillier, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking contributions to this field.
Notably, Anne L’Huillier became the fifth woman ever to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, marking a significant milestone for women in the sciences.
The experiments conducted by these laureates have allowed scientists to "freeze" fast electron motions, enabling the observation of electron behavior at a previously unattainable level of detail. This has been compared to using a strobe light to observe individual blades of a ceiling fan in motion.
While the analogy is not perfect, it illustrates the challenge of studying electrons, which move incredibly quickly but over extremely short distances. Attosecond physics has opened up new possibilities for studying and understanding electron behavior in the submicroscopic world.
The Nobel Prize in Physics often honors research conducted decades earlier, showcasing the breadth of disciplines within the field. Last year's prize recognized breakthroughs in quantum information science, while previous years have focused on topics like climate change and black hole discoveries. This year's award underscores the importance of basic research in advancing our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of matter.