08:13 AM

Pierre Agostini meets with students

Nobel Laureate answers questions about his work

Pierre Agostini, 2023 Nobel Laureate and emeritus professor of physics at The Ohio State University, is often a man of few words. During his visit to the Columbus campus this spring, he met with a group of physics students and answered their questions over pizza. Some of his answers were characteristically brief:

Will winning a Nobel Prize lead to more funding for his research?


How do you feel about teaching?

“A difficult exercise.”

How do you balance your research and your personal life?

“Next question,” he said with a laugh.

However, Agostini and lab partner Professor Louis DiMauro opened up to share details about Agostini’s Nobel Prize winning research.

Questions from undergraduate and graduate students ranged from practical applications of the prize-winning research to what advice he had for graduate students.

You never know what will be useful, he said. The road is success can be a long one. A trick he discovered in 1979 wound up being used in the research that won the 2023 Nobel Prize.

“We had no idea about short pulses [in 1979],” he said. “It’s been a random walk.”

Agostini was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in December, receiving the prize from the King of Sweden in Stockholm. His work led to the creation of techniques to capture electrons using pulses of light. Each pulse lasts just an attosecond, or one quintillionth of a second.

Many students asked about the future of physics. Is there something faster than an attosecond? Both Agostini and DiMauro agreed that there should be a scientific reason to push research further.

“We’re physicists,” DiMauro said. “We’re not interested in making the shortest pulse in the world because it gets us into the Guinness Book of World Records. We’re interested in making tools that will allow us to study physics.”

When asked about practical innovations Agostini made to study the light pulses, the pair described a pinhole that was used to suppress part of the laser beam used in their research.

“The most important technical advancement in this was a disc with a hole in it,” DiMauro said.

As for what led him to a career in physics, Agostini surprised the crowd by saying he had originally preferred a different topic.

“When I started university, I wanted to do math,” he said. “They discouraged me. They said, ‘Math is too hard.’ So, I tried physics.”

Share this