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Nobel Prize in physics awarded to 3 scientists for work on electrons

Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier were pictured onscreen as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced them as the recipients of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics in Stockholm on Tuesday.

By Emma Bubola and Katrina Miller

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier on Tuesday for their experiments that “have given humanity new tools for exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules.”

Electrons’ movements in atoms and molecules are so quick that they are measured in “attoseconds,” and the experiments conducted by the three scientists demonstrated that attosecond pulses could be observed and measured, the awarding committee said.

Eva Olsson, the chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said at a news conference Tuesday that attosecond science “allows us to address fundamental questions” such as the time scale of the photoelectric effect for which Albert Einstein received the 1921 Nobel in physics.

An attosecond is a millionth of a trillionth of a second. The number of them in one second is the same as the number of seconds that have elapsed since the universe came into existence, 13.8 billion years ago, according the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the physics prize.

“Now that the attosecond world has become accessible” the Nobel committee wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, “these short bursts of light can be used to study the movements of electrons.”

Who are the winners?

Agostini is an emeritus professor at Ohio State University.

Krausz is director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany and a professor of experimental physics at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

L’Huillier is a professor at Lund University in Sweden.

Why did the committee say they were receiving the prize?

“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,” the awarding committee said.

The laureates’ contributions have enabled the investigation of processes so rapid that they were “previously impossible to follow,” it added.

What impact has their work had?

“Through their experiments, this year’s laureates have created flashes of light that are short enough to take snapshots of electrons’ extremely rapid movements,” the committee said in a news release.

“Anne L’Huillier discovered a new effect from laser light’s interaction with atoms in a gas,” the committee said.

“Pierre Agostini and Ferenc Krausz demonstrated that this effect can be used to create shorter pulses of light than were previously possible,” the committee added.

The three laureates’ work will pave the way for potential applications in areas including electronics and medicine, Olsson said.

According to the awarding committee, attosecond pulses can also be used to identify different molecules, such as in medical diagnostics.

Who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2022?

The prize went to John Clauser, Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger for independent works exploring quantum weirdness.

Who else has received a Nobel Prize in the sciences this year?

On Monday, the prize in physiology or medicine went to Katalin Karikó and Dr. Drew Weissman for a chemical modification to messenger RNA. Their research led to the successful development of the COVID-19 vaccine and saved millions of lives. Karikó is the 13th woman to win the Nobel Prize in this category.

When will the other Nobel Prizes be announced?

— The Nobel Prize in chemistry will be awarded Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Last year, Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K. Barry Sharpless shared the prizes for work on click chemistry.

— The Nobel Prize in literature will be awarded Thursday by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. Last year, Annie Ernaux was given the prize for work that dissected the most humiliating, private and scandalous moments from her past with almost clinical precision.

— The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. Last year, the prize was shared by Memorial, a Russian organization; the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine; and Ales Bialiatski, a jailed Belarusian activist.

— Next week, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences will be awarded Monday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Last year, Ben Bernanke, Douglas W. Diamond and Philip H. Dybvig shared the prize for work that helped to reshape how the world understands the relationship between banks and financial crises.

All of the prize announcements will be streamed live by the Nobel Prize organization.

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