Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for studying electrons in atoms in tiny fractions of a second, a field that could one day help develop electronic devices and diagnose the pain.
The award goes to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for their studies on the small parts of each atom that revolve around its nucleus, and which are the basis of almost everything: chemistry, physics, our bodies and our devices .
Electrons move so fast that isolating them is beyond human control, but by observing them for the smallest possible fraction of time—an attosecond, which is equal to 0.000000000000000001 seconds—scientists now have a “fuzzy ” picture of it. of science, according to experts.
“Electrons are very powerful and (…) in fact are the working force for everything,” explained Nobel Committee member Mats Larsson. “Once you can control and understand electrons, you’ve taken a big step forward.”
His experiments “gave mankind new tools to explore the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which announced the award on Tuesday. The experts “showed a way to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure fast processes in which electrons move or change energy.”
Currently, that branch of science focuses on understanding our universe rather than practical applications, but there are hopes that it will result in improved electronic devices and disease diagnosis.
L’Huillier is only the fifth woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. He said he was teaching a class when he got the call about his award, and joked that it was difficult to complete the lesson.
“It’s the most prestigious thing and I’m very happy to receive this award, it’s unbelievable,” he said at the press conference where the award was announced. “As you know there aren’t many women who have achieved this award, so it’s very special.”
Agostini works at Ohio State University, in the United States; Krausz is a member of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, and L’Huillier of Lund University, Sweden.
The prizes include a payment of 11 million Swedish crowns ($1 million), which comes from a fund left by the prize’s creator, the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896.
The prize money has been increased to one million kroner this year due to the loss of the Swedish currency.
Last year, three scientists won the physics prize for showing that tiny particles can maintain a connection with each other even when separated. The phenomenon was questioned in the past, but is now being investigated for possible applications such as information encryption.
The winners of the physics category were announced the day after the Hungarian-American Katalin Karikó and the American Drew Weissman won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discoveries that allowed the development of messenger RNA vaccines against COVID-19.
The Nobel announcements continue this week with the chemistry prize on Wednesday and the literature prize on Thursday. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the economic prize on October 9.
The winners are invited to receive their awards at ceremonies on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death. The prestigious Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo, as he wished, while another ceremony will take place in Stockholm.