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Trianon Scientific Communication

  • Writer's pictureDr Audrey-Flore Ngomsik

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 explained

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 explained

Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier
Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier

Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier have demonstrated a way to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy. For this, they won the Nobel Prize in physics 2023.

Imagine the world of atoms and molecules, a place where incredibly tiny particles called electrons move and change energy faster than the blink of an eye. These tiny particles are like the actors in a movie, and their actions happen so quickly that we've never had the right tools to watch their performance – until now.

Electrons are negatively charged particles that orbit the nucleus, or center, of an atom
Negatively charged particles known as electrons encircle the nucleus, which serves as the central core of an atom.[1]

In 2023, three scientists, Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L'Huillier, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking experiments that have given us the ability to peer into this microscopic world. They've essentially given humanity the ability to see and understand what happens with electrons inside atoms and molecules.

When we look at fast-moving events, they often blur together, just like when you watch a movie made up of individual pictures. To investigate these ultra-fast events, we need special technology, and that's precisely what these scientists have developed. They've created ultra-short bursts of light, so fast that they're measured in something called attoseconds. An attosecond is a unit of time so incredibly tiny that there are as many attoseconds in one second as there have been seconds since the universe was born – that's an unimagineable small amount of time!

Illustration attosecond
What is an attosecond?

With their experiments, Agostini, Krausz, and L'Huillier have produced these incredibly short bursts of light, which can be used like a super-speed camera to take pictures of what's happening inside atoms and molecules. This is like catching a snapshot of electrons in action, something we've never been able to do before.

Anne L'Huillier's work with infrared laser light in noble gases back in 1987 was a crucial starting point. She discovered that when you send this laser light through a gas, it interacts with atoms and causes electrons to gain extra energy, which they release as light. This laid the foundation for the breakthroughs that followed.

In 2001, Pierre Agostini and Ferenc Krausz took things to the next level. Agostini created sequences of ultra-short light pulses, each lasting just 250 attoseconds. At the same time, Krausz worked on isolating single light pulses that were a bit longer, lasting 650 attoseconds. These experiments made it possible to study the incredibly rapid processes that were previously invisible to us.

So, why is this important?

Well, it opens the door to a whole new realm of understanding.

These attosecond tools can be used in various fields. In electronics, we can now better comprehend and control how electrons behave in materials, which is essential for creating faster and more efficient devices. They can also help in medical diagnostics by identifying different molecules.

In simple terms, the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics is like giving humanity a supercharged microscope that allows us to peer into the tiniest and fastest parts of our world. It's like turning on the lights in a previously dark room and discovering new secrets that can revolutionize technology, medicine, and our understanding of the universe.




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