Three atomic physicists, Ferenc Krausz of Hungary and Austria, Pierre Agostini of France, and Anne L’Huillier of France and Sweden, received the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for their work developing instruments for studying electrons inside atoms and molecules.
The trio was honoured “for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter,” the jury said.
“An attosecond is so short that there are as many in one second as there have been seconds since the birth of the universe,” they added.
The jury said the trio “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 laureates’ contributions have enabled the investigation of processes that are so rapid they were previously impossible to follow,” it said.
Krausz is a director at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, whereas Agostini teaches at Ohio State University in the United States.
L’Huillier, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, is just the fifth woman to receive the Physics Prize since 1901.
She told reporters that it “was difficult” to finish the class because she was in the middle of teaching it when she got the call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
“I am very touched… There are not so many women that get this prize so it’s very, very special,” L’Huillier said.
Last year, Alain Aspect of France, John Clauser of the United States and Austria’s Anton Zeilinger won the Nobel for their work into quantum entanglement, a concept once dismissed by Albert Einstein as “spooky action”.