In the world of electrons, changes occur in a few tenths of an attosecond, a time interval equal to one trillionth of a second. To give you an idea, an attosecond is so short that there are more in one second than there have been seconds since the birth of the universe.
Researchers Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier have been awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics for the creation of tools that make it possible to see what happens inside atoms and molecules at incredible speeds. speed, known as attophysics. In this way, they observed the movement or energy change of electrons in the shortest time scale that humans have been able to achieve.
In 1987, Anne L’Huillier (Lund University, Sweden) discovered that many different shades of light appeared when she passed infrared laser light through a noble gas. His work laid the foundation for later development. In 2001, Pierre Agostini (Ohio State University, United States) was able to create and investigate a series of light pulses, each lasting only 250 attoseconds. At the same time, Ferenc Krausz (Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, Germany) worked on another type of experiment, which allowed the isolation of a pulse of light lasting 650 attoseconds. L’Huillier and Krausz were previously awarded this year’s BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences.
The contributions of the winners have made it possible to examine processes so rapidly that they were previously impossible to follow. These devices are like a camera with an exposure time so amazingly fast that it is able to capture even the movement of an electron that takes 150 attoseconds to make a complete revolution around the nucleus of a hydrogen atom.
“Now we can open the door to the world of electrons. Attosecond physics gives us the opportunity to understand the mechanisms by which electrons are governed. The next step is to use them,” said Eva Olsson, president of the Nobel Committee for Physics.
Thanks to attophysics, it is now possible to make direct observations of natural phenomena that were previously forbidden to human perception. There are potential applications in many different areas. In electronics, for example, it is important to understand and control how electrons behave in a material. Attosecond pulses can also be used to detect different molecules, such as in medical diagnosis.
In addition, these methods open the door to the possibility of manipulating subatomic particles, changing their behavior and properties with applications in biomedicine and electronics.