The 2023 Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for creating “flashes of light that are short enough to take snapshots of electrons’ extremely rapid movements,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced in Stockholm on Tuesday.
Electrons move so quickly that their movements were previously thought impossible to follow.
But the three physicists “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 committee said.
It praised the laureates for giving “humanity new tools for exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules.”
The movements of electrons inside atoms and molecules are so rapid that they are measured in attoseconds – an almost incomprehensibly short unit of time. “An attosecond is to one second as one second is to the age of the universe,” the committee explained.
“They were able to, in a sense, provide an illumination tool that allows us to watch the assembly of molecules: how things come together to make a molecule,” Bob Rosner, president of the American Physical Society and a professor at the University of Chicago, told CNN.
These movements “happen so quickly that normally we have no idea how they actually occur or what the sequence of events is,” said Rosner. But the laureates’ work means scientists can now observe how these movements happen, he added.
“Imagine building a house. You have foundation, walls, roof and so on. There’s a sequence to anything complicated. For a molecule, if you don’t get the sequence right, you won’t be able to assemble it,” said Rosner.
This is a breaking news story, more to follow.