Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier, recipients of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics [Credit: Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach]
The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics has been jointly awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for their development of experiments that allow scientists to explore the world at a miniscule timescale.
According to the Nobel Prize Committee, the laureates were able to create pulses of light short enough to be measured in attoseconds. There are as many attoseconds in one second as there are seconds in the age of the universe. This is how fast electrons move, and how fast physicists need to be in order to understand them.
Anne L’Huillier, a professor of physics at Lund University in Sweden and the fifth woman to win the award, began her research in the 1980s. In 1987, she discovered how light can be separated into individual waves, or overtones, with different frequencies. These overtones can be put together to generate a pulse of light.
This work was continued in 2001 by Pierre Agostini and Ferenc Krausz. Agostini, an emeritus professor at Ohio State University, managed to generate repeated pulses of light, each lasting 250 attoseconds, while Krausz, the director of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, designed a method to generate one pulse of light lasting 650 attoseconds.
Thanks to the contributions of L’Huillier, Agostini and Krausz, scientists are now able to master the movement of electrons, with applications in medical diagnosis, chemistry and semiconductor physics.
This new pulse allows scientists to make certain materials switch between being insulators (not letting any electrons through) to conductors (open to the flow of electrons). These materials can be used to make even faster electronics.
“I have been completely passionate about this field since the end of the 80s,” L’Huillier explained during the press conference for the announcement. She charted the journey of this field from the first beginnings of the theory to its practical applications, describing attosecond physics as “a field that has been progressing and is still progressing to this day.”