Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 - What do I have to do with it?

Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 - What do I have to do with it?

👋 Hey Friends,

Fridays Findings is a newsletter in which I present findings that I had over the last week which could be personal, scientific or philosophical. Looking back at what the year 2023 has offered us we can say that we have learned about Time in your brain, "Living in the present", "Quantum Entanglement" and many more interesting things.

Still, the biggest thing that happened in 2023 that I find personally inspiring is the Nobel Prize in Physics of 2023 which presented incredible research on the matter of auttoseconds, an extremely small fraction of a second. Why that is important and what that means for us is the purpose of this year's final "Friday Finding".

🏅🧠 Nobel Prize Minds 2023

The Nobel Prize committee or in other words the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2023 to:

Pierre Agostini
The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA

Ferenc Krausz
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Garching and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Anne L’Huillier
Lund University, Sweden

These three Nobel minds have been awarded this prestigious award because of their experimental research regarding a deeper understanding of the behaviour of electrons and molecules. The three scientists were able to demonstrate 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.

This research shows that light can be used to see the quantifiable change in the momentum of subatomic particles. The method can be broadly described as using this insanely small interval of time in a light pulse to track different positions of an electron within a chemical process.

Consider a fast-moving event captured by a camera. The viewed footage appears to be a continuous depiction of reality. However, as we all know cameras work in the way that they capture multiple photographs over a distinctive time at some rate we call frames per second (fps). A higher so-called framerate allows us to observe events that change rather quickly at a lower speed since we can slow down the captured footage afterwards. With modern technology, we can capture framerates up to millions of frames per second which helps us to even see the rate at which glass moves through its medium when breaking:

Great explanation by ActionLab.

We as humans or rather our technology however comes to limitations when trying to measure faster and faster processes. In order to understand the actual mechanics of our universe and the operations that underline it is necessary for us to understand how subatomic particles move through space under the attraction of the fundamental forces:

Fundamental Forces
Fundamental Force Boson Charge Range Relative Strength
Gravitation Graviton (postulated) Mass ∞ (infinite) 10^-41
Electromagnetic Interaction Photon Electric charge ∞ (infinite) 10^-2
Weak Interaction W-Boson Indefinable <10^-17m 10^-15
Strong Interaction Gluons Colour charge 10^-15m 1

To explore incredibly brief events, specialized technology becomes essential. If we want to track and understand the movement of particles like electrons ordinary cameras come to their limitations as the time interval between certain alterations of atomic processes is unimaginably small. Within the realm of electrons, alterations happen within a fraction of an attosecond—a unit of time so minuscule that the number of attoseconds in a single second exceeds the total seconds elapsed since the universe's inception.

Visual understanding of an Attosecond.

The Nobel Prize winners' experiments have generated light pulses incredibly brief, measured in attoseconds. This showcases the potential of these pulses to capture images revealing the inner workings of atoms and molecules.

I myself believe that this is incredible research and that it well deserves the prestige award of the Nobel Prize. Still, you may question why we need such research and what we ourselves have to do with it.

🔬 The importance of this research

The advancement in understanding chemical and atomic processes at such short time intervals through creating short-interval laserbeams is fundamental to understanding how subatomic particles move through time and space. Because of these advancements, we can now investigate processes that are so rapid they were previously impossible to follow.

Another interesting thing is that the way the Nobel laureates were able to measure atomic processes helps us in that sense that the movement of subatomic particles cannot be "seen" as we understand seeing to work. An electron is estimated to have a radius of about 10^(-18) m. To physically see something light needs to reflect from its surface. Visible light waves however only have a wavelength between 400-700 nanometers. (One nanometer is equal to 10^(-9) metres.) This is far away from the radius of the electron which implies that light is unable to reflect from the electron surface so that we can measure and observe the reflected light.

With the new method of understanding atomic processes, we find new ways to "see" the behaviour of the electron.

Finally, it is hard to understand what this means for us in our day-to-day lives. These new ways of understanding the quantum mechanical world, the world of subatomic particles, waves and fields, do not help us to make our lunch or clean our laundry but it reminds us of what physics is really about. In our everyday lives, we interact with trillions of atoms but do not recognize their nature. I myself believe that reflecting on the fact that we do not know everything about the world we live in lets us appreciate these new methods of understanding the subatomic world.

We may not understand the reason behind our existence just yet but the pursuit of science and the inspiration given to physics enthusiasts every day reminds us that through ongoing research we may someday understand the how.

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Thanks again and I'll see you soon.

Victor (@observethecosmos)

✍️ Quote of the week

"We can now open the door to the world of electrons. Attosecond physics gives us the opportunity to understand mechanisms that are governed by electrons."
― Eva Olsson, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

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