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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Nobel Prize in physics awarded to 3 scientists for illuminating how electrons move

By Emma Bubola and Katrina Miller New York Times

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier on Tuesday for techniques that illuminate the subatomic realm of electrons, providing a new perspective into a previously unexplored domain.

Electrons move at a whopping 43 miles a second. This speed has long made them impossible to study. The new experimental techniques created by the three scientist-laureates use short light pulses to capture an electron’s movement at a single moment in time.

To study the movement of electrons, the scientists had to use pulses of light that last only on the scale of attoseconds. An attosecond is one-quintillionth of a second. The number of attoseconds in a single second is the same as the number of all the seconds that have elapsed since the universe burst into existence 13.8 billion years ago, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel prizes.

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” by measuring the relative positions of electrons in an atom.

Agostini, 82, is an emeritus professor at Ohio State University. He was educated in France.

Krausz, 61, is director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany and a professor of experimental physics at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He was born in Hungary.

L’Huillier, 65, is a professor at Lund University in Sweden. She was born in Paris.

L’Huillier is the fifth woman to win the prize in physics. The last woman to be recognized in the category was Andrea Ghez, an astrophysicist, in 2020.

Attosecond physics will also allow scientists to measure the timing of electrons being released from a material when light shines on it. Albert Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for establishing the theory of this phenomenon, known as the photoelectric effect.

Accessing the ultrafast world of electron motion may also lead to advances in circuitry, drug design and the materials used for batteries, as well as noninvasive diagnostic tools in medicine.

Louis DiMauro, a physicist at Ohio State University, described L’Huillier’s work as a suite of “elegant experiments and superb theory” that laid the foundation for the potential of electron motion capture. Agostini and Krausz then followed the challenging prescription to make this decadeslong dream a revolutionary reality, he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.