Trio wins Nobel Prize in physics for split-second glimpse of superfast spinning world of electrons

For providing us with the first ever sight into the ultrafast world of spinning electrons, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday. This sector has the potential to improve electronics and aid in the diagnosis of diseases in the future.

The prize given to Ferenc Krausz, a Hungarian-born scientist, French scientist Pierre Agostini, and French physicist Anne L'Huillier for their work with the minuscule portion of each atom that races about the center and is essential to almost everything, including chemistry, physics, human bodies, and technology.

Because electrons travel so quickly, human efforts to isolate them have been unsuccessful. However, by observing the smallest fraction of a second, scientists have managed to capture a "blurry" image of an electron, which has the potential to unlock entire new fields of study, according to experts.

Nobel Committee member Mats Larsson stated, "The electrons are very fast, and the electrons are really the workforce in everywhere." "You have made significant progress once you are able to manipulate and comprehend electrons."

L'Huillier, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, is the sixth female recipient of a physics Nobel Prize.

She told The Associated Press, "For all the women, I say if you are interested, if you have a little bit of passion for this type of challenges, so just go for it."


Like photographers using rapid shutters to film a hummingbird eating, the scientists employed ever-quicker laser pulses to capture the atomic movement that occurs at such dizzying speeds—one quintillionth of a second, known as an attosecond. The scientists worked in isolation.

What size is that?

"Let us take a moment, one heartbeat," stated Nobel Committee head Eva Olsson. Six times the sign of 1,000 would have to be subtracted to obtain the realm of the attosecond.

Nobel Committee member and physicist Mark Pearce stated, "There are as many attoseconds in a second as there are seconds which have passed since the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago."

However, there's only so much that scientists can observe when they "see" the electron.

According to L'Huillier, 65, "you can see whether it's on one side of a molecule or on the other." "It remains incredibly hazy."

"We try to measure the position of the wave crest with our technique because the electrons are much more like waves than particles, like water waves," the speaker continued.


Since that's "how the atoms bind together," L'Huillier explained, electrons are essential. It is the site of chemical reactions.

At a press conference, Krausz declared, "Electrons are, even if we can't see them, omnipresent in our life—our biological life and also our technical life, in our everyday life." "In the biological world, electrons serve as the bonding agent between atoms, enabling the formation of molecules, which are the smallest functional units of all living things."

Furthermore, Krausz stated that you must be aware of their movements in order to comprehend how they function.

While the current focus of this study is on comprehending the cosmos, it is hoped that in the future, it will also have useful applications in fundamental chemistry, electronics, and illness diagnosis.

L'Huillier claimed that her research, which she worked on for thirty years before potential real-world applications became more evident, demonstrates the significance of studying basic science regardless of potential applications.


When L'Huillier received the call informing her that she had won, she was at Lund teaching basic engineering physics to around a hundred undergraduates; however, her phone was on quiet, so she didn't answer. During a break, she verified it and gave the Nobel Committee a call.

She returned to teaching after that.

She told the AP, "I was very focused, forgot about the Nobel Prize and tried to finish my lecture." In order to attend the press announcement at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm to announce the prize, she left class a little early.

She said at the press conference, "This is the most prestigious and I am so happy to get this prize. It's incredible." It's quite significant because, as you know, not many women have won this honor.

A picture of L'Huillier placing a smartphone up to her ear was shared on social media by the Nobel organization.

The message on X, which was once Twitter, said, "Dedicated teacher alert!" "Even the 2023 Physics Nobel Prize wouldn't be able to separate Anne L'Huillier from her students."

L'Huillier said that she was not permitted to reveal the outcome to the pupils since the reward was being kept a secret at the time, but that they made an educated estimate.

Before the Nobel Committee made public his victory, Agostini, an emeritus professor at Ohio State University, was in Paris and could not be reached.

He laughed and said to the AP, "I haven't had a phone call from the committee. Perhaps it's not true. I don't know." "I believe the committee is searching Columbus for me."

The 82-year-old remarked, "There are definitely younger people who would have appreciated it far more than me." "It's good, but I think it's a little late."

Nevertheless, he said, "I don't think I would have deserved it more earlier!"

Reporters were given the impression that Krausz, who works at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, was confused.

The 61-year-old stated, "I've been attempting to determine since 11 a.m. whether I'm in reality or it's just a long dream."

Although Krausz often doesn't take calls with "no caller ID," he added, "I thought I'd try it and then it became clear that I can't hang up so quickly," in response to the Nobel committee's call.

Paul Corkum, a physicist at the University of Ottawa, and Krausz and L'Huillier shared the coveted Wolf prize in physics last year. There can only be three recipients of the Nobel Prize, and Krausz expressed disappointment that Corkum was not one of them.

Krausz stated that Corkum played a critical role in enabling the measurement of the split-second laser bursts.

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor, bequeathed the Nobel Prizes, which feature a financial reward of 11 million Swedish kronor ($1 million).

The physics prize was awarded the day after two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work that made it possible to develop COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

The statement from the Nobel committee:

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics will be given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to

Jacques Agostini

The Ohio State University, Columbus, U.S.

Leopold Krausz

Ludwig Maximilians Universit√§t M√ľnchen and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, both in Garching, Germany

L'Huillier Anne

Sweden's Lund University

"for attosecond light pulses produced by experimental methods for the study of electron dynamics in matter"

Light experiments record the briefest of seconds.

The three 2023 Physics Nobel Laureates are being honored for their discoveries that have provided new means for understanding the world of electrons within atoms and molecules. Ferenc Krausz, Anne L'Huillier, and Pierre Agostini have shown how to produce incredibly brief light pulses that may be utilized to gauge the speed at which electrons travel or change their energy.

Human perception of fast-moving events merges with that of still pictures in a film, since both types of motion are regarded as continuous. To study extremely short-lived occurrences, specialized technology is required. Within the realm of electrons, transformations take place in only tenths of an attosecond; an attosecond is so brief that it contains as many electrons in a single second as there have been in total seconds since the universe's inception.

The light pulses generated by the laureates' research are so brief that they can be quantified in attoseconds, proving that these pulses may be utilized to create pictures of the internal workings of atoms and molecules.

When Anne L'Huillier transmitted infrared laser light through a noble gas in 1987, she found that a variety of distinct overtones of light emerged. For every laser light cycle, each overtone is a light wave with a specific number of cycles. They result from interactions between the laser light and the gas's atoms, which give some electrons more energy to release as light. By pursuing her investigation into this phenomena, Anne L'Huillier has set the foundation for further discoveries.

Pierre Agostini was able to create and study a sequence of successive light pulses in 2001, with a duration of only 250 attoseconds for each pulse. Simultaneously, Ferenc Krausz was doing an alternative kind of experiment that allowed for the isolation of a single 650 attosecond light pulse.

Because of the laureates' contributions, it is now feasible to investigate processes that were previously difficult to track due to their high speed.

Eva Olsson, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, states, "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."

There are a wide range of possible uses. For instance, it's critical to comprehend and regulate how electrons behave in various materials in electronics. Additionally, atom-second pulses can be employed in medical diagnostics to distinguish between various substances.

electrons in light pulses

The research conducted by this year's laureates have produced brief bursts of light that allow for the capture of the incredibly fast motions of electrons. When laser light interacts with gaseous atoms, Anne L'Huillier finds a novel effect. It has been shown by Pierre Agostini and Ferenc Krausz that shorter light pulses than before are achievable by utilizing this effect.

A hummingbird's small wings may beat up to 80 times each second. All that is visible to us is a whirring sound and hazy movement. Rapid motions blend together for the human senses, making it hard to see really brief occurrences. We must employ technical ploys to record or portray these fleeting moments.

Using strobe illumination and high-speed photography, it is possible to get detailed pictures of feeting phenomenon. One wingbeat is not enough time for an exposure to capture a sharply defined shot of a hummingbird fighting.

In order to catch the moment, a photograph must be snapped as quickly as the event is happening.

The same holds true for any technique used to measure or illustrate fast processes: any measurement must be completed faster than the time it takes for the system under study to exhibit a discernible change in order to avoid imprecise results. The research done by this year's laureates shows how to create light pulses that are short enough to take pictures of activities occurring inside of atoms and molecules.

The inherent time scale of an atom is quite short. Atoms in molecules can move and rotate in femtoseconds, which are millionths of a billionth of a second. The smallest laser pulses possible may be used to study these movements; nevertheless, the timeframe of atom-wide motions is dictated by the huge and heavy nuclei of the atoms, which move very slowly in comparison to the light and agile electrons.

Changes in an atom or molecule are blurred in a femtosecond because to the rapid motion of electrons inside them. Positions and energies in the universe of electrons fluctuate at rates of one to a few hundred attoseconds, where an attosecond is one billionth of a billionth of a second.

Because of how brief an attosecond is, one second's worth of them equals the amount of seconds that have passed since the universe's creation, or 13.8 billion years ago. More realistically, consider the time it takes to send a flash of light from one end of a room to the other wall—ten billion attoseconds.

It was long believed that the fastest light imaginable could only be produced in a femtosecond.

To see activities taking place on the astonishingly short timelines of electrons, advancements in current technology were insufficient; a whole new approach was needed. The research undertaken by this year's laureates has paved the way for significant developments in the field of attosecond physics.

reduced pulse lengths assisted by high overtones

Waves are vibrations in electrical and magnetic fields that travel through a vacuum more quickly than any other material. These correspond to different colors because they have different wavelengths. Red light, for instance, cycles at over 430 billion times per second and has a wavelength of about 700 nanometers, or one tenth of the breadth of a hair. The smallest possible pulse of light may be understood as the duration of a single period in the light wave, or the cycle in which the light wave rises to a peak, falls to a trough, and then returns to its initial position. Since the wavelengths utilized in most laser systems can never go below a femtosecond in this instance, it was thought to represent a hard limit on the shortest light bursts that might occur in the 1980s.

Any wave shape may be created if enough waves with the appropriate sizes, wavelengths, and amplitudes (distances between peaks and troughs) are employed, as shown by the mathematics that explains waves. The secret with attosecond pulses is that more and shorter wavelengths may be combined to create shorter pulses.

Short enough light pulses are needed to see the motion of electrons on an atomic scale, which necessitates mixing short waves of various wavelengths.

More is needed to add new wavelengths to light than simply a laser; a phenomena that occurs when laser light travels through a gas holds the key to reaching the shortest moment yet examined. Overtones are produced when light interacts with atoms in the material. These are waves that complete multiple full cycles for every cycle in the original wave. We can distinguish the difference between the identical note performed on a guitar and a piano by comparing this to the overtones that give a sound its own character.

Using an infrared laser beam transmitted via a noble gas, Anne L'Huillier and her colleagues at a French laboratory were able to synthesize and show overtones in 1987. The light infrared

produced a greater and more intense number of overtones than the shorter wavelength laser employed in the earlier trials. Numerous overtones with almost the same light intensity were seen in this experiment.

Throughout the 1990s, L'Huillier continued to investigate this effect in a number of studies, even at her new location of Lund University. Her findings helped to explain this phenomena theoretically and laid the groundwork for the subsequent experimental discovery.

Electrons that escape produce overtones.

The electric field that holds the electrons around the atomic nucleus is distorted when the laser light enters the gas and interacts with its atoms through electromagnetic vibrations. At that point, the electrons can depart from the atoms. On the other hand, the electrical field of light is always vibrating, and when it changes direction, a free electron may return to the nucleus of its atom. The electron gathered a great deal of extra energy from the electrical field of the laser light during its excursion, and in order to reconnect to the nucleus, it must release this surplus energy as a light pulse. The overtones seen in the tests are produced by these electron light pulses.

The wavelength of light is related to its energy. The energy in the overtones that are released is comparable to ultraviolet light, which is visible light with shorter wavelengths than visible light to the human eye. The overtones' vibration will be appropriately proportionate to the initial laser pulse's wavelength as the energy originates from the vibrations of the laser light. Different light waves with a range of specific wavelengths are produced when light interacts with numerous different atoms.

These overtones interact with one another once they are present. When the peaks of the lightwaves align, the intensity of the light increases; conversely, when the trough of one cycle coincides with the peak of another, the intensity of the light decreases. When the conditions are ideal, the overtones align to produce a sequence of hundreds of attoseconds-long UV light pulses. The theory underlying this was grasped by physicists in the 1990s, but it wasn't until 2001 that the pulses could be identified and tested.

It was possible for Pierre Agostini and his French research team to generate and study a sequence of successive light pulses that resembled a train with carriages. To determine if the overtones were in phase with one another, they employed a unique technique that involved combining the "pulse train" with a portion of the initial laser pulse that had been delayed. They were also able to measure how long each pulse in the train lasted thanks to this approach, and they discovered that each pulse lasted just 250 attoseconds.

Simultaneously, Ferenc Krausz and his Austrian research team were developing a method that could choose a single pulse, similar to a carriage being disconnected from a train and moved to a different track. The team tracked and studied a process in which electrons were drawn away from their atoms using the 650 attosecond pulse they were able to isolate.

These investigations showed that attosecond pulses might be employed in future research as well as detected and quantified.

With the advent of the attosecond world, electron motions may now be studied with these brief light bursts. With current technology, pulses as short as a few dozen attoseconds may currently be produced, and advancements in this field are ongoing.

The motions of electrons are now seen.

With the use of atom-second pulses, one may measure the time it takes for an electron to be pulled from an atom and investigate the relationship between this time and the degree of electron-to-nucleus bonding. Previously, the location of electrons could only be determined as an average; however, it is now feasible to recreate how their distribution oscillates from side to side or place to place in molecules and materials.

Attosecond pulses can be used to distinguish between different occurrences and to evaluate the internal workings of matter. These pulses have potential uses in fields ranging from electronics to medicine and have been used to investigate the intricate physics of atoms and molecules.

Attosecond pulses, for instance, can be used to push molecules, which release a signal that can be measured. A form of fingerprint that identifies the sort of molecule the signal from the molecules is made of, and one of its potential uses is in medical diagnostics.