The relationship between BME and the research group of Ferenc Krausz varies in intensity, but is continuous, said Péter Richter, professor and former lecturer of the Nobel Prize laureate.
Ferenc Krausz graduated in electrical engineering from BME in 1985. He started his research at the BME Institute of Physics, and had worked in the university's laser laboratory for three years. We asked Péter Richter, Professor at the Department of Atomic Physics (Institute of Physics) of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), about the university years and later research relations.
Professor, what memories do you have of your former student?
It is difficult to tell from the teacher’s desk who will become a Nobel Prize laureate, but you can see who is ambitious. Ferenc Krausz was one of my students who always tried to make the most of the lectures and seminars. He studied to become an electrical engineer at BME and also participated in the physicist training programme at Eötvös Loránd University, which showed how practice-oriented he was even back then. He wanted to put the things he had calculated or predicted in theory into practice. He had the talent and the perseverance to achieve his goals, and thanks to this, in collaboration with several colleagues, he succeeded.
What role do you think BME and its professors played in the development of his academic career?
As he himself wrote, one of his greatest influences was József Bakos, who was then a visiting professor at the BME Department of Experimental Physics. He also had the intellectual mentorship of Győző Farkas, who worked at the Central Institute for Physical Research and theoretically predicted the possibility of producing such a very short pulse. The problem was that at that time the necessary tools were not available.
After his graduation, did you keep in touch or did he carry out joint research with BME?
Yes, the personal relationship is still alive and there is an ongoing relationship between the university and his research group, albeit varying in intensity. I myself worked at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics with Professor Hänsch, also a Nobel Prize laureate, who invited Ferenc Krausz to the Max Planck Institute.
What is the scientific significance of attosecond light pulse generation?
They succeeded in producing the shortest signal, pulse of light, that exists. Its length is measured in 10-18 seconds, which is a billionth of a billionth of a second. To give you a sense of this order of magnitude: the lifetime of the universe is 1018 seconds. In fact, we have reached an order of magnitude of ten to the power of eighteen back and forth in time. The process can also be called a temporal microscope, which allows us to observe very fast phenomena. The changes in the state of electrons, which determine the behaviour and reactions of atoms and molecules, take place at incredibly high speeds, in about 100-1,000 attoseconds. The results of this basic research can also be used in industry, as they could also be the basis for important opportunities in microelectronics. Today, we use processors with a linewidth of 3 nanometres, which operate almost at an atomic, molecular level. Their measurement and analysis foreshadows new possibilities in the field of the potential control and manipulation of processes.
Nowadays, it is increasingly common for basic research results to be rapidly translated into practical applications, blurring the boundaries between engineers and physicists. In the modern world, engineers need the basic scientific knowledge that a physicist's training can provide, and physicists need engineering knowledge if they want to solve something in practice.
That is why I am very pleased that the English-language physicist-engineer training programme has been launched at BME.