This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics opens windows that were unimaginable to Heisenberg, to explore phenomena that were previously impossible to observe
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 jointly to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier “for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter”
From the advanced information:
When Werner Heisenberg formulated the new quantum mechanics in 1925, his main argument was that the old quantum mechanics forced physicists to use quantities that were, in principle, unobservable, such as the position and period of revolution of the electron in the hydrogen atom. Heisenberg argued that a new theory should be based on “observables”, such as the frequencies of quantum transitions.
Heisenberg’s intuitive paper of 1925 is one the most important in physics from the 20th century, but what he could not anticipate was that what was once “in principle” unobservable is now becoming accessible in laboratory experiments. We may not yet be able to observe, in the strict sense, the position and revolution of an electron around a nucleus, but today, we can “see” the dynamics of electrons in atoms, molecules and matter in the condensed phase in laboratory experiments.
This Scientific Background cannot give justice to the breadth of attosecond science. What started as the fairly narrowly focused field of multiphoton processes in atomic physics has now expanded towards many frontiers in molecular physics, physical chemistry, condensed matter physics and applied fields such as light-generation technology. And the first steps towards biological applications have been taken by the Krausz group in Garching.
By combining broadband optics, ultrafast laser sources, and precision femtosecond-attosecond field resolving technologies, the Krausz group has developed electric-field molecular fingerprinting that can detect changes in molecular composition of biofluids. This holds promise as a new in vitro diagnostic analytical technique to detect characteristic molecular of traces of diseases in blood samples. The great advantage is that many molecules can be monitored at the same time, and the radiation is non-ionizing and therefore not harmful.
In further expanding the basics of attosecond science, important work has also been carried out by other groups. See those of Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn at the University of Colorado, Boulder (for example, and of Ursula Keller at ETH Zurich.
A recent and comprehensive review article by Rocio Borrego-Varillas, Matteo Lucchini and Mauro Nisoli describes the Laureates’ research and what it has catalysed: in harnessing powerful laser effects to shift time to attosecond scales, they could see electrons move in atoms, molecules and matter in the condensed phase. This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics opens windows that were unimaginable to Heisenberg, to explore phenomena that were previously impossible to observe.