Anne L’Huillier


First reactions. Telephone interview, October 2023

“Even now, 30 years afterwards, we are still learning new things”

In what was surely understatement, 2023 physics laureate Anne L’Huillier described herself as “A little bit busy” when Adam Smith reached her a couple of hours after she had received the news. In this brief call she describes how special it feels to receive the prize and how her research into the overtones of light, which she revealed in the 1980s, continues to excite her: “Even now, 30 years afterwards, we are still learning new things.”

Interview transcript

Anne L’Huillier: Hej?

Adam Smith: Hello, this is Adam Smith calling from, am I speaking with Anne L’Huillier?

AL: Yes, but I am a little bit busy now.

AS: I can well imagine, and I promise not to keep you on the phone for more than two or three minutes.

AL: Ok.

AS: Thank you very, very much! Of course, many congratulations.

AL: Thank you very much!

AS: I gather that you were teaching when you heard, and I just wanted to know what your students thought of this news?

AL: I think they were very happy,

AS: Of course.

AL: It was really fun, let’s put it this way!

AS: It must have changed the lesson.

AL: Yes, but I tried to, I continued my lecture.

AS: That shows tremendous presence of mind. I gather that it must all be a fairly overwhelming thing to happen, and you’re deluged. But I suppose, I mean, I recall that you were on the Nobel Committee until what, 2015, so you know all the behind the scenes stuff, you know what led to this. Does that, in some way, make it even more special that you know how…

AL: Yes, yes, it definitely does, and I know what it is to get a Nobel Prize, it’s extremely difficult, and I know the work behind, which is done by the committee, so I am very, very grateful.

AS: Of course, may I just ask you about the, you know, just about the thrill of studying these sort of secret sides of light, the overtone you’re able to create. It was almost forty years ago, I guess, that you were switched on to this. What is it that makes it just so thrilling to study?

AL: This is a basic research, I don’t know, this was new, it was not expected, and not predicted. The understanding took some time, took several years, so it was very interesting to study and to try to understand more and then later on, many years after, look for applications and explore new things with it.

AS: It seems such a wonderful combination of the head and the hands, if you like, the complexity of the theory and the practicality of producing these exquisitely sensitive pieces of apparatus.

AL: Yes, I mean this is what makes the field so, so exciting, and even now, thirty years afterwards, we are still learning new things, we are still trying to improve the process in order for some applications, so its complex physics but that makes it very, very interesting.

AS: Of course, thank you very much indeed, and thank so much for speaking to me in the midst of all this. Congratulations again.

AL: Thank you!

AS: Bye bye!

AL: Bye!

Anne L'Huillier on the phone
Anne L’Huillier during the telephone interview with’s Adam Smith immediately after the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics, 3 October 2023. Photo: Johann Mauritsson

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