Nobel Prize in physics awarded to researchers looking at electrons in atoms

The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for their work looking at electrons in atoms in split-second moments.

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Hans Ellegren, the secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, announced the award Tuesday in Stockholm, The Associated Press reported.

Pierre Agostini, a researcher at The Ohio State University; Ferenc Krausz of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany; and Anne L’Huillier of Lund University in Sweden were notified they had won the award.

They were honored for their work that demonstrates a way to create pulses of light that can be used to measure the actions of electrons.

Their experiments “have given humanity new tools for exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which announced the prize. They “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.”

Eva Olsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, tied the work of the three researchers to that of Albert Einstein, who received a Nobel Prize 102 years ago.

“Attosecond science allows us to address fundamental questions such as the time scale of the photoelectric effect for which Einstein, Albert Einstein, received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921,” Olsson said.

One attosecond is a quintillionth of a second.

According to L’Huillier, who is only the fifth woman to win a physics Nobel, the Nobel Committee had a hard time getting her on the phone to tell her she had won, she said at the press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy.

She said the Nobel Committee had called three times before she answered the phone.

“I was teaching,” she said, joking that the last half-hour of her lecture, after she found out, was “quite difficult”.

But when the news got to her, she was elated, she said.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “There are not so many women that get this prize - so it’s very, very special.”

On Monday, professors Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman were awarded the Nobel for medicine for their work with mRNA.

The Nobel Prizes carry a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor or $1 million U.S. dollars.

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