Nobel Prize in Physics 2023

Nobel Prize in Physics 2023

Author: ChemistryViews

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 has been awarded to

  • Pierre Agostini, The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA,
  • Ferenc Krausz, Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Garching, Germany and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany, and
  • Anne L’Huillier, Lund University, Sweden,

  “for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter” [1].



The Laureates have created pulses of light that are short enough for the study of the movement of electrons in atoms, molecules, and matter in the condensed phase—i.e., attosecond spectroscopy. An attosecond is 1·10−18 of a second. Anne L’Huillier discovered a new effect that arises from the interaction of laser light with atoms in a gas. Pierre Agostini and Ferenc Krausz demonstrated that this effect can be used to create shorter pulses of light than were previously thought possible.


Measuring Very Fast Changes

In order to observe fast processes, any measurement must be performed more quickly than the time it takes for the system to undergo a noticeable change. For example, in a molecule, atoms can move within femtoseconds. These movements can be studied with the very shortest light pulses that can generally be produced with a laser. When electrons move inside atoms or molecules, they do so within times of between one and a few hundred attoseconds.

A femtosecond was long regarded as the limit for the production of short light pulses. Improving existing technology was not enough to see processes occurring on the brief timescales of electrons; something entirely new was required.


Shorter Pulses with the Help of Overtones

We can think of the shortest possible pulse of light as the length of a single period in the light wave. In this case, the wavelengths used in ordinary laser systems are never able to get below a femtosecond, so in the 1980s, this was regarded as a hard limit for the shortest light pulses.

The key to attosecond pulses is a phenomenon that arises when laser light passes through a gas. The light interacts with its atoms and causes overtones, similar to the overtones in music that give a sound its particular character.

In 1987, Anne L’Huillier discovered that many different overtones of light arose when she transmitted infrared laser light through a noble gas [2]. Each overtone is a light wave with a given number of cycles for each cycle in the laser light. They are caused by the laser light interacting with atoms in the gas; it gives some electrons extra energy that is then emitted as light. These light pulses from the electrons are what create the overtones that appear in the experiments. L’Huillier continued to explore this effect during the 1990s [3].

The energy in the emitted overtones is equivalent to ultraviolet light. Once these overtones exist, they interact with each other. The light becomes more intense when the lightwaves’ peaks coincide, but becomes less intense when the peak in one cycle coincides with the trough of another. In the right circumstances, the overtones coincide so that a series of pulses of ultraviolet light occur, where each pulse is a few hundred attoseconds long.


Attosecond Pulses

In 2001, Pierre Agostini succeeded in producing and investigating a series of consecutive light pulses, in which each pulse lasted just 250 attoseconds [4]. The series of light pulses can be considered similar to a train with carriages. The team used a special trick, combining the “pulse train” with a delayed part of the original laser pulse, to see how the overtones were in phase with each other.

At the same time, Ferenc Krausz and colleagues were working on a technique that could isolate a single pulse—like a carriage being uncoupled from a train and switched to another track. The pulse they succeeded in isolating lasted 650 attoseconds [5], and the group used it to track and study a process in which electrons were pulled away from their atoms.

These experiments demonstrated that attosecond pulses could be observed and measured, and that they could be used in new experiments. It is now possible to produce pulses down to just a few dozen attoseconds. Attosecond pulses have been used to explore the detailed physics of atoms and molecules, and they have potential applications in areas from electronics to medicine.



Pierre Agostini studied physics and received his Ph.D. in 1968 from the Université Aix-Marseille, France, and then became a researcher at CEA Saclay (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission), France, where he remained in various positions until 2002. He has been a Professor of Physics at Ohio State University since 2005.

Pierre Agostini has received many awards, including the Joop Los Award from the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) of the Netherlands and the William F. Meggers Award from the Optical Society in 2007.


Ferenc Krausz, born in 1962 in Mór, Hungary, studied theoretical physics at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary, and electrical engineering at Budapest Technical University, Hungary. After his habilitation at Vienna Technical University, Austria, he was appointed Professor there. Since 2003, he has been Director at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany. He is also a Co-Founder and one of the two spokespersons of the Munich Centre for Advanced Photonics (MAP), founded in 2006. Since 2005, he has been an Associate Professor at Vienna Technical University. In addition, in 2004, he was appointed Professor of Experimental Physics at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.

Among his many honors, Ferenc Krausz has been awarded the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2022, the Otto Hahn Prize in 2013, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2011, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2006, and the Julius Springer Prize in 2006.


Anne L’Huillier, born in 1958 in Paris, France, studied theoretical physics and received her Ph.D. in experimental atomic physics from the CEA Nuclear Research Center in Saclay, France. As a postdoctoral fellow, L’Huillier worked at the Chalmers Institute of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, and at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA. Since 1986, she has been permanently employed at the Saclay research center. In 1995, she became a Lecturer at Lund University and a Professor in 1997.

Among her many awards, Anne L’Huillier received the Julius Springer Prize in 2003, the UNESCO L’Oréal Prize in 2011, the Carl Zeiss Research Prize and the Blaise Pascal Medal in 2013, the Max Born Award of the Optical Society of America in 2021, and the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2022.




[2] M. Ferray, A. L’Huillier, X. F. Li, L. A. Lompre, G. Mainfray, C. Manus, Multiple-harmonic conversion of 1064 nm radiation in rare gases, J. Phys. B At. Mol. Opt. Phys. 1988, 21, L31–L35.

[3] A. L’Huillier, K. J. Schafer, K. C. Kulander, Theoretical aspects of intense field harmonic generation, J. Phys. B At. Mol. Opt. Phys. 1991, 24, 3315–3341.

[4] P. M. Paul, E. S. Toma, P. Breger, G. Mullot, F. Augé, Ph. Balcou, H. G. Muller, P. Agostini, Observation of a Train of Attosecond Pulses from High Harmonic Generation, Science 2001, 292, 1689–1692.

[5] M. Hentschel, R. Kienberger, Ch. Spielmann, G. A. Reider, N. Milosevic, T. Brabec, P. Corkum, U. Heinzmann, M. Drescher, F. Krausz, Attosecond metrology, Nature 2001, 414, 509–513.


Selected Publications

Selected Publications by Pierre Agostini


Selected Publications by Ferenc Krausz


Selected Publications by Anne L’Huillier


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