Anne L’Huillier, Nobel Prize in Physics 2023, visits Madrid

  • The meeting takes place within the framework of his collaboration with Prof. Fernando Martín, associate research professor at IMDEA Nanociencia and professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
  • IMDEA Nanociencia coordinates the prestigious ERC Synergy project ‘TomATTO’, which investigates ultrafast attosecond electronic dynamics to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic processes.
  • Attosecond physics investigates processes on this extremely short time scale, in atoms and, recently, also in molecules.

Anne L’Huillier, Professor of Atomic Physics at Lund University and Nobel Prize in Physics 2023, has been received by Prof. Rodolfo Miranda, Director of IMDEA Nanociencia, at the facilities of this center. During their visit to the institute, IMDEA Nanociencia researchers showed Prof. L’Huillier the research capabilities of the building, and specifically focused on the Photovoltaic Optics (Enrique Cánovas) and Ultrafast Spectroscopy (Juan Cabanillas) laboratories. Prof. L’Huillier has been interested in the research carried out at IMDEA Nanociencia, and has shown great interest in chatting with the youngest researchers, the new generations of scientists who have it in their hands to advance the progress of fundamental science.

Prof. L’Huillier regularly collaborates with Prof. Fernando Martín, Research Associate Professor at IMDEA Nanociencia and professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. The visit takes place within the framework of her visit to Spain, in which Anne L’Huillier has also given a talk to students of the Autonomous University of Madrid, entitled “The route to the attosecond pulses”. During her talk, she has acknowledged the EU funding, in particular the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Networks, that make the attosecond research so strong in Europe.

Anne L’Huillier is a French-Swedish physicist who works on the interaction between short and intense laser fields with atoms. Anne L’Huillier’s research, which is both experimental and theoretical, is focused on the generation of high-order harmonics.

When a gas of atoms is irradiated with very intense laser light, it is possible to generate these very high-order harmonics of light. It is a phenomenon similar to what happens when a violin is played with a string; not only a musical tone is generated, but a set of tones or harmonics. In the time domain, light harmonics correspond to a series of extremely short pulses of light, in the extreme ultraviolet spectral range and lasting a few tens or hundreds of attoseconds. The attosecond is an extremely small unit of time: a second is, relative to an attosecond, what the age of the universe is to one second of time (0.0.00000000000000000000000001 seconds).

Anne L’Huillier’s research focuses on the development and optimization of attosecond sources, as well as the use of this radiation for the study of the ultrafast movement of electrons in atoms and, more recently, in molecules. Anne L’Huillier has received prestigious awards for her contributions to knowledge, including the Wolf Prize in Physics (2022), the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2023), and the Nobel Prize in Physics (2023).

Fernando Martín is Scientific Director of the Severo Ochoa project at IMDEA Nanociencia and Professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid. His research work focuses on computational modeling of the effects of laser light on atoms and molecules, and the properties of new nanometric materials and objects. In 2000 he was awarded the King Juan Carlos I National Research Award, and in 2017 the King Jaume I National Research Award in Basic Research. In 2020 it obtained funding from the European Research Council (ERC) through a ‘Synergy’ grant of 12 million euros to carry out the ‘TomATTO’ project, coordinated by IMDEA Nanociencia.

The ‘TomATTO’ research project aims to capture ultrafast electronic dynamics to improve solar energy conversion efficiency. The generation of electrical currents that power human activities in a clean and sustainable way is a priority for humanity. In this sense, understanding the complexities of light-induced electron transfer processes—i.e., photovoltaic processes—in organic materials is critical to improving the efficiency of energy conversion in solar energy capture devices. Since the early stages of these processes occur on ultra-fast timescales, on the attosecond scale, accessing them is quite a technical challenge. The ‘TomATTO’ project plans to delve deeper into this problem through advances in the science of attoseconds and organic synthesis, as well as support for computational modelling, and is carried out through the collaboration of three leading research groups, led by Prof. Mauro Nisoli (Polytechnic Institute of Milan),  Prof. Nazario Martín (Complutense University of Madrid), and Prof. Fernando Martín (IMDEA Nanociencia/UAM).

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