Wolf Prize Laureate in Physics 2022
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of Ottawa, Canada
“for pioneering contributions to ultrafast laser science and attosecond physics”
“for pioneering and novel work in the fields of ultrafast laser science and attosecond physics and for demonstrating time-resolved imaging of electron motion in atoms, molecules, and solids. Each of them made crucial contributions, both to the technical development of attosecond physics and to its application to fundamental physics studies.”
Corkum, a Canadian physicist, a leader, and a pioneer in the field of ultrafast laser spectroscopy. For three decades he has been a major source of insight regarding the great potential of this field. He is known primarily for his remarkable contributions to the field of high harmonic generation and for proposing intuitive models which helped to explain the complex phenomena associated with attosecond spectroscopy.
Corkum has stated that he owes his career to his high-school physics teacher, Anthony Kennett, who pushed him to prove everything. According to Corkum, in physics, that is what you want to do. Corkum grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, a small port city on Canada’s east coast. The son of a fisherman and tugboat captain, he spent much of
his time around boats, sailing with his father, and working on various types of engines. Corkum started his career as a theoretical physicist. He graduated from Lehigh University, PA, U.S.A., with a PhD in theoretical physics in 1973. Later, during a postdoctoral interview at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), when asked “Why do you think you can work in experimental physics?” he replied, with confidence gained by his childhood experience that “it’s no problem, I can take the engine of a car completely apart, repair it and put it back together so it will work”. They hired him! Today, Corkum directs the Joint NRC/University of Ottawa Attosecond Science Laboratory and holds a Canada Research Chair at the University of Ottawa. He is a fellow of the Royal Societies of London and of Canada and a foreign member of the US National Academy of Science, the Austrian Academy of Science, and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Corkum established the understanding of high harmonic generation through his semiclassical re-collision model that underlies the formation of attosecond pulses. Under the influence of a strong laser field, an electron can tunnel ionize from an atomic or a molecular potential, accelerated, and then recombine, emitting high-order harmonics. The emitted harmonic spectrum is sensitive to the evolution in time of the atomic or molecular structure. The so-called high harmonic spectroscopy allowed him
to demonstrate the feasibility to image a molecular orbital via a tomographic reconstruction procedure.