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Understanding Attoseconds: The Tiny Time Scale Behind Nobel Prize-Winning Research

Three researchers were awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in physics for their groundbreaking work in studying electrons using attosecond-long flashes of light. These infinitesimally short light pulses have enabled scientists to observe rapid electron movements, especially during processes like the breaking of chemical bonds.

The 2023 Nobel Prize in physics recognized three researchers for their work with attosecond light pulses, revolutionizing the study of rapid electron movements and broadening understanding in various fields of physics and chemistry.

A group of three researchers earned the 2023 Nobel Prize in physics for work that has revolutionized how scientists study the electron – by illuminating molecules with attosecond-long flashes of light. But how long is an attosecond, and what can these infinitesimally short pulses tell researchers about the nature of matter?

I first learned of this area of research as a graduate student in physical chemistry. My doctoral adviser’s group had a project dedicated to studying chemical reactions with attosecond pulses. Before understanding why attosecond research resulted in the most prestigious award in the sciences, it helps to understand what an attosecond pulse of light is.

How Long Is an Attosecond?

“Atto” is the scientific notation prefix that represents 10-18, which is a decimal point followed by 17 zeroes and a 1. So a flash of light lasting an attosecond, or 0.000000000000000001 of a second, is an extremely short pulse of light.

In fact, there are approximately as many attoseconds in one second as there are seconds in the age of the universe.

Source: SciTechDaily