On 3 October 2023 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 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 three Nobel Laureates in Physics 2023 are being awarded for their experiments, which have given mankind new tools for exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules. Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L'Huillier have demonstrated how to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy.
In the world of electrons, changes occur in a few tenths of an attosecond – an attosecond is so short that there are as many in one second as there have been seconds since the birth of the universe.
The laureates' experiments have produced pulses of light so short that they are measured in attoseconds, thus demonstrating that these pulses can be used to provide images of processes inside atoms and molecules.
In 1987, Anne L'Huillier discovered that many different overtones of light arose when she transmitted infrared laser light through a noble gas.
In 2001, Pierre Agostini succeeded in producing and investigating a series of consecutive light pulses, in which each pulse lasted just 250 attoseconds. At the same time, Ferenc Krausz was working with another type of experiment to isolate a single light pulse that lasted 650 attoseconds.
"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 next step will be utilising them," says Eva Olsson, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.
There are potential applications in many different areas. In electronics, for example, it is important to understand and control how electrons behave in a material. Attosecond pulses can also be used to identify different molecules, such as in medical diagnostics.