Nobel Prize in physics awarded to 3 scientists who glimpsed the inner world of atoms with tiny light pulses

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Three scientists who produced light pulses so brief that they may be used to observe the inner workings of atoms have been granted the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics.

For figuring out how to produce light pulses measured in attoseconds, or one quintillionth of a second, Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier will split the 11 million Swedish krona ($1.02 million) prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which chooses the Nobel laureates in physics, announced on Tuesday (Oct. 3).

An attosecond is a minuscule fraction of time, comparable in size to a second to the age of the universe, that is utilised to observe the motions of electrons and molecules.

During the press conference on Tuesday, L’Huillier, a physicist at Lund University in Sweden and the fifth woman to earn the prize, revealed over the phone that she was lecturing when she got the news.

“It was a little challenging to finish the last 30 minutes of my lecture,” she remarked. As you are aware, not many women receive this award, therefore it is really unique.

Human perception assembles the discrete images that light particles, or photons, carry into a continuous moving film when they enter the eyes, but its accuracy is constrained by the brain’s visual processing speed.

Another barrier for artificial devices is the duration of the light pulses that are utilised to break up a particular operation. This implies that the smallest trains of light are all that physicists can see while observing processes involving atoms and electrons.

The work of the three started in 1987 when L’Huillier discovered that passing laser light through a noble gas produced a multitude of light overtones, all of which had distinct frequencies. When L’Huillier stacked these overtones such they essentially cancelled each other out, she found herself with an extraordinarily brief burst of light.

Later, Agostini, a physicist at The Ohio State University, and Krausz, at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, continued her work and improved the technique to provide two pulses: a single 650-attosecond pulse and a series of 250-attosecond pulses.

According to the Nobel committee, the method opens the door to the observation and manipulation of molecules valuable for medicinal applications on the smallest of scales as well as electrons, which are responsible for carrying energy.

The entrance to the realm of electrons is now open for us. We can comprehend mechanisms governed by electrons thanks to atom-second physics. Using them will be the next stage, according to a statement from physics Nobel committee chair Eva Olsson.

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