Anne L'Huillier celebrates with students and colleagues at Lund University.
Scientists Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L'Huillier won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics for "experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter", the award-giving body said on Tuesday. The prize, which was raised this year to 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million), is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Despite the global media buzz surrounding the announcement, Anne L'Huillier, one of the three Nobel laureates, remained steadfast in her commitment to her students. Even as news of her 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics reached the world, L'Huillier was in the midst of teaching her class. Unfazed by the prestigious recognition, she learned of the honor during a scheduled break and promptly returned to her students after the phone call.
Anne L'Huillier is a professor of atomic physics at Lund University in Sweden. She leads an attosecond physics group that studies the movements of electrons in real time, which is used to understand chemical reactions on the atomic level.
In 1987, L'Huillier "discovered that many different overtones of light arose when she transmitted infrared laser light through a noble gas," the Nobel Committee noted, adding that she has continued to explore this phenomenon, "laying the groundwork for subsequent breakthroughs".
In the early 2000s, Agostini and Krausz worked on experiments that made it possible to isolate light pulses that lasted only a few hundred attoseconds.
Agostini is a professor at Ohio State University in the United States, while Krausz is a director at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
L'Huillier, only the fifth woman to be awarded the Physics Prize since 1901, is a professor at Lund University in Sweden.
L'Huillier told reporters she was in the middle of teaching a class when she received the call from the academy, making it "difficult" to finish the class, to whom she said nothing.
"I am very touched... There are not so many women that get this prize, so it's very, very special," she said.
Before L'Huillier, Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963), Donna Strickland (2018), and Andrea Ghez (2020) were the only women to have won the award.
Speaking later at a press conference, she encouraged young women interested in a career in science to "go for it".
The laureate, who is married and has two sons, stressed it was possible to combine a research career with an "ordinary life, with a family and children."
French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated the trio, noting that "two of our brilliant French researchers" had been honoured.
"What a source of pride for our nation!" Macron said in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.
L'Huillier and Krausz had been seen as contenders for the honour, having been awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize last year together with Canadian physicist Paul Corkum.
(With inputs from AFP)