The work honored Tuesday comes from a discipline known as attosecond physics, so called because the pulses of light used in the experiments last only an attosecond, a period so brief that scientists say there are as many attoseconds in one second as there have been seconds since the dawn of time roughly 13.8 billion years ago.
Earlier advances in the field allowed scientists to scrutinize the motion of atoms within molecules and gain a better understanding of conductivity, said Susan L. Dexheimer, professor emerita at Washington State University and chair of the American Physical Society division of laser science. Attosecond pulses allow scientists to probe even deeper into the submicroscopic realm, to monitor electrons within atoms.
“Shorter-duration light pulses make possible measurements on faster time scales, acting like a strobe light to ‘freeze’ fast motions,” Dexheimer said Tuesday in an email.
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