A Nobel For Illuminating Electron

Scientists Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics for creating incredibly short pulses of light that can capture processes inside atoms and molecules, in work which could advance medical diagnostics and electronics.

The discovery

The trio was honoured for experimental methods that generate pulses of light that last attoseconds.

To understand how an electron travels, the scientists had to look at an extremely short time period — one-quintillionth of a second (known as an attosecond) — just like photographers use a quick shutter speed while photographing hummingbirds.


At this point, this science is about understanding our universe, but the hope is that it will eventually have many practical applications in electronics, diagnosing diseases and basic chemistry.

Potential applications of the discovery include medical diagnostics, where the shortest pulses can be used to identify molecules, and in electronics for understanding and controlling how electrons behave in a particular material.

Meet the scientists

Agostini, a French-American, works at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Krausz, who was born in Hungary, is director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, as well as professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich. French-born L’Huillier is a professor at Lund University in Sweden.

And the money

The three will share the 11 million Swedish kronor (USD 1 million) drawn from a bequest left by the award’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896. The prize money was raised by 1 million kronor this year because of the plunging value of the Swedish currency.

Last year’s winner

Three scientists Alain Aspect (France), John Clauser (US) and Anton Zeilinger (Austria) jointly won the physics prize in 2022 for groundbreaking work in the field of quantum entanglement, where two particles are linked regardless of the space between them – something that unsettled Einstein himself who once referred to it as “spooky action at a distance”.

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