The Nobel Prize in Physics for this year recognizes groundbreaking experiments with light that have unveiled the world of electrons in moments of unimaginable brevity. The prestigious award is shared by Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier for their pioneering work, which has enabled the creation of extraordinarily short light pulses capable of capturing and studying rapid processes occurring within atoms.
The laureates will divide the prize money of 11 million Swedish krona (£824,000) among themselves. Their experiments have yielded “pulses of light so short that they are measured in attoseconds,” with one attosecond equaling a quintillionth of a second—akin to what one second represents in the age of the Universe.
These groundbreaking discoveries have equipped scientists with an ultra high-speed shutter for examining the behavior of electrons, subatomic particles within atoms that move at incredibly rapid speeds, measured in billionths of a second. Prior to the breakthroughs of the laureates, observing and tracking these swift-moving electrons was beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced microscopes.
Eva Olsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, emphasized the significance of their work, stating, “We can now open the door to the world of electrons. Attosecond physics gives us the opportunity to understand mechanisms that are governed by electrons.”
The field of “attosecond physics” is providing unprecedented insights into processes occurring within atoms and molecules. These advancements are expected to lead to the development of even more precise electron microscopes, significantly faster electronics, and novel diagnostic tests for detecting diseases in their early stages.
In a notable milestone, Prof. Anne L’Huillier, affiliated with Lund University in Sweden, became only the fifth woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics. She shared her amazement at this recognition and expressed the uniqueness of the moment for women in the field.
Prof. Pierre Agostini, based at Ohio State University in the US, and Prof. Ferenc Krausz from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany complete this trio of accomplished Nobel laureates. Their pioneering contributions join the ranks of celebrated scientific breakthroughs in the realm of physics.
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, recently announced, was awarded to Professors Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their pivotal roles in the development of mRNA Covid vaccines.
Previous Nobel Prize in Physics winners include those who explored quantum mechanics, advanced our understanding of complex systems like Earth’s climate, delved into the nature of black holes, made groundbreaking discoveries about the Universe, and revolutionized laser physics.