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W&L’s McClain Presents Nobel Prize Symposium Talk Tom McClain, assistant professor of physics, will discuss this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

Tom-McClain-copy-scaled-512x400 W&L’s McClain Presents Nobel Prize Symposium TalkTom McClain, assistant professor of physics

Tom McClain, assistant professor of physics at Washington and Lee University, will present on the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for their experiments that have provided humanity with new tools for exploring electrons inside atoms and molecules. The talk will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 12:15 p.m. in room 128 of the Harte Center, located in Leyburn Library.

Agostini, Krausz and L’Huillier demonstrated that it is possible to create extremely short pulses of light that can measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy. This is achieved in a fashion similar to watching a single frame of film from a movie. For viewing electrons, changes occur in an attosecond – an extremely short measurement of time. (For reference, there are as many attoseconds in one second as there have been seconds since the birth of the universe.)

The experiments conducted by these three scientists have allowed for a pulse of light that can be measured in attoseconds. As a result, these pulses can be used to produce images of the processes inside of atoms and molecules.

“Werner Heisenberg was a pioneer of quantum theory in the early twentieth century and one of his big issues with the first versions of quantum mechanics was that they referenced ‘undetectable’ phenomena like the motion of electrons inside atoms,” said McClain. “The work pioneered by Agostini, Krausz and L’Huillier allows for attosecond laser pulses to specifically detect these type of motions. It was literally unthinkable to physicists 100 years ago that this kind of precision would ever be possible.”

Agostini received a Ph.D. from Aix-Marseille University in France and is a professor of physics emeritus at The Ohio State University. Krausz, who earned a Ph.D. from Vienna University of Technology in Austria, is a professor of experimental physics at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and serves as director of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics. L’Huillier holds a Ph.D. from Pierre and Marie Curie University in France and is a professor of atomic physics at Lund University in Sweden.

Learn more about all of the 2023 Nobel Prize winners here.