Anne L’Huillier wins Wolf Prize in Physics

WACQT principal investigator Anne L’Huillier is one of this year's recipients of the Wolf Prize – the most prestigious award in physics next to the Nobel Prize. She wins the prize for her pioneering work in ultrafast laser science and attosecond physics.

”It feels incredible – I’m really amazed. The prize is a recognition of almost everything I have done during my career as a researcher,” says Anne L’Huillier, professor in atomic physics at Lund University.

She shares the 2022 Wolf Prize in Physics with professors Paul Corkum at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and Ferenc Krausz at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Germany. 

“I have collaborated with many researchers, but very little with Corkum and Krausz. Having entered the field from different directions, we have mostly done complementary work. My entrance, and somewhat my privilege, is that I have been involved from the very beginning,” she says. 

It all started in 1988, when Anne L’Huillier and her colleagues in Paris discovered high-order harmonics of light being generated in a gas exposed to an intense laser field. 

“It was a bit of a coincidence. Our intention was to study fluorescence in the gas, but instead we saw these high-order harmonics. I found it very fascinating and really got stuck in exploring this new phenomenon which is an interesting combination of atomic physics, more precisely the response of an atom to a strong laser field and non-linear optics.”

A powerful titanium sapphire laser – the first of its kind in Europe – brought Anne L’Huillier to Lund in 1992 to do experiments. Two years later, she moved to Lund permanently to share her life with one of the researchers behind the Lund high-power laser facility. 

Early on, it was theoretically predicted that if the high-order harmonics can be synchronized with each other, it would result in a series of extremely short light pulses, with durations of a few tens or hundreds of attoseconds. It took the field 14 years, until 2001, to show it experimentally. 

The time scale is unfathomably short; an attosecond is no more than a billionth of a billionth of a second. Using light pulses this short as “camera flashes” enables the detection of the incredibly rapid motion of electrons. 

“The second part of my research has been to use these pulses to study the ultrafast dynamics of atoms and molecules, especially photoionization,” tells L’Huillier. 

In their experiments with the short pulses, her team constantly creates entangled quantum states – entangled electron pairs, entangled ion and electron, and entangled degrees of freedom. During the last couple of years, L’Huillier – and part of the research field – have become increasingly interested in characterising these entangled quantum states, and understanding their decoherence mechanism (the concepts of entangled states and decoherence are explained in the WACQT website). 

In 2021, L’Huillier became one of the principal investigators in the WACQT management, where she is one of the coordinators of research in quantum sensing. She also leads a WACQT project on characterizing and controlling atomic matter on attosecond timescales. 

“Anne L’Huillier’s group brings important expertise to WACQT regarding time-resolved spectroscopy and control of the dynamics of quantum systems,” says Göran Wendin, senior advisor in WACQT and also theoretical supervisor of L’Huillier when she was a PhD student in Paris and during her postdoc at Chalmers in 1986. 

“Being a part of WACQT is really exciting. I learn new things and follow the development of the quantum information field. We want to apply many of the concepts from this field to the entangled electrons that we create with our attosecond pulses,” says Anne L’Huillier. 

The work done within WACQT is one of her main priorities at the moment. Another priority is to work with industrial applications in order to contribute to the utilisation of attosecond light pulses. The fact that these pulses are coherent and broadband is of interest, for example, for the semi-conductor industry.  

“I see a very nice future for ultrashort laser pulses, with many applications in different directions. After 30 years with titanium sapphire lasers, there is now a shift to ytterbium-based laser systems which are much smaller and easier to handle. This should open the field also to people who are not laser specialists, but rather specialists within one of the many possible applications,” L’Huillier predicts.


About the Wolf Prize

The Wolf Prize is awarded annually by the Israeli Wolf Foundation to outstanding scientists and artists from around the world for “achievements promoting science and art in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples, regardless of race, religion, gender, geographical location or political opinion.”


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The Wolf Prize
Anne L’Huillier’s research group


Text: Ingela Roos

Page manager Published: Mon 07 Mar 2022.