First reactions. Telephone interview, October 2023
“I was not sure whether I was dreaming, or whether it’s reality”
Ferenc Krausz was preparing to give lab tours at his institute when a call from Stockholm reached him at home. “I was not sure whether I was dreaming, or whether it’s reality,” he tells Adam Smith in this call recorded just after the physics prize was announced. “It’s always exciting to see something that no-one could see before,” he says, recalling the thrilling morning in Vienna in 2001 when he first saw that they were able to reveal electron motions with their attosecond pulse technology: “This was just an unbelievable moment which I will never forget!”
Ferenc Krausz: Hello? Krausz.
Adam Smith: Hello, this is Adam Smith calling from the website of the Nobel Foundation, nobelprize.org.
FK: Oh, hello!
AS: Hello! Many congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
FK: Thank you!
AS: How did the news reach you?
FK: Well, I just was not sure whether I am dreaming or whether it’s reality. So it’s still a question that I have to clarify with myself.
AS: So, the call reached you at work from Stockholm?
FK: Right, I am working at this very moment still at home, just preparing myself for an open day at our institute which is supposed to start in about an hour, where I will do a few lab tours for interested visitors. It remains to be seen whether this is going to work out but this is at least the plan.
AS: I think, yes, the day seems to have taken an unexpected turn, but what are your first thoughts on hearing this news?
FK: My first thought is how many friends, colleagues, coworkers, collaborators have directly or indirectly contributed to this. My very first thoughts are with them, and I feel a great deal of gratitude to all of them. Without their contributions and without really concerted research efforts throughout my career first in Vienna, a very important period, and later on here in Garching, Munich this just wouldn’t have been possible.
AS: You are the second Hungarian to be awarded the prize this week so far, what does that mean?
FK: Wow! I was thrilled to bits yesterday when I heard the news about Katalin Karikó, unfortunately I don’t know her in person yet, but of course I know her by her name very well, and I am a very great admirer of her. Not just for her achievements, but also for the way she actually achieved what she achieved. When almost nobody else has believed in this, she just went on and carried on and under very poor circumstances with little funding, but she never gave up. I think this message is almost as important as the actual achievement.
AS: Exactly, it’s such a hopeful message that perseverance pays off, and yesterday she was saying how important it is not to be distracted by all the things you can’t change, but just to focus on what you can do.
FK: Absolutely, this is a really great, great saying, and I couldn’t agree more with it.
AS: No doubt the two of you will meet very soon, so isn’t it nice that the Nobel Prize becomes a way to make new friends.
FK: I am very much looking forward to that, of course I very much look forward to that for many reasons, but in this particular case, also for this particular reason to be allowed to meet her in person.
AS: Just very briefly, these attosecond pulses allow us to visualise chemistry in action, they allow us to see things at the timescale of the electron. What are you most excited about being able to see?
FK: I think it’s always exciting to see something that no one could see before, and I still really remember the excitement that we felt in a very particular morning in the basement laboratory of our institute in Vienna, back in Vienna in 2001 when we first indeed could resolve electron dynamics that evolved within the oscillation period of visible light. This was just an unbelievable moment which I will never forget. Just this very capability of actually being able to observe these motions which are really the fastest outside the atomic core that occur in nature, but actually with attosecond science we have now a tool which basically allows to develop models that simplify the description of these complex systems, and these simplified models might be handleable even for today’s computers and they can be validated by comparing with the experiment that can now be performed in real time.
AS: So exciting to see these things come to life that the theorists write about in books and now here you are revealing it. It has been a great pleasure to talk to you and congratulations again.
FK: Thank you very much, thank you! Bye bye!
AS: Bye bye.
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