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Illuminating the Invisible: Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to 3 Pioneers in Electron Imaging

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences declared on Tuesday, October 3, 2023 that the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics will honour Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier.

The trio’s groundbreaking work Creating “flashes of light short enough to take snapshots of electrons’ extraordinarily quick movements” earned them the honours. The subatomic dance of electrons, once thought too swift and elusive to observe, is no longer hidden from view.

“Previously, the dizzying speed of electron dynamics was like an intricate ballet that we knew was happening, but it was just too fast to see,” commented renowned physicist Dr. Maya Patel. “This trio has handed us a high-speed camera.”

The Nobel committee elucidated in its announcement, “These three physicists have demonstrated a way to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy.”

Their technique will not just further our understanding of the atomic and molecular world, but it will also pave the way for advancements in various fields of technology and medicine.

This year, the coveted prize came with an elevated purse of 11 million Swedish crowns (approximately $1 million in today’s exchange rate).

The Academy, in its statement, extolled the significance of the trio’s contributions: “The laureates’ experiments have produced pulses of light so short that they are measured in attoseconds, thus demonstrating that these pulses can be used to provide images of processes inside atoms and molecules.”

Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel laureates Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier win the 2023 Nobel Prize for Physics. | Laser Physics Workshop; Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics; BBVA Foundation

At a subsequent news conference, an elated L’Huillier, who is affiliated with Lund University in Sweden, remarked, “It’s really a prestigious prize and I’m so happy to get it. It’s incredible.”

Her co-laureate Agostini serves as a professor at Ohio State University in the United States, while Krausz holds the directorial position at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics.

The announcement of this award follows closely on the heels of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, which was presented to Hungarian scientist Katalin Kariko and U.S. researcher Drew Weissman. Their critical discoveries surrounding the mRNA molecule notably set the foundation for COVID-19 vaccine development.

Instituted by the will of Alfred Nobel, the dynamite inventor and esteemed businessman, these Nobel prizes have recognized monumental advancements in fields like science, literature, and peace since 1901.

Although the Peace prize often captivates global attention, the Physics award too has a storied history, celebrating luminaries such as Albert Einstein and groundbreaking works that redefine our understanding of the universe.

Reflecting on the previous year’s award, quantum entanglement experts Alain Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger had earned the honour.

Their exploration into the puzzling phenomenon, wherein two particles remain interconnected regardless of distance, even confounded Einstein, who intriguingly termed it “spooky action at a distance”.

The world now keenly awaits the forthcoming Nobel announcements scheduled this month, spanning chemistry, literature, peace, and economics – with the latter being a newer addition to Nobel’s original ensemble.

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