Physicist Lisa Torlina receives Marthe Vogt Award for her doctoral dissertation at the Max Born Institute
Dr. Lisa Torlina. Foto: Herbort
The Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB) is granting this year’s Marthe Vogt Award to Dr Lisa Torlina for her doctoral dissertation in quantum mechanics. In the course of her work at the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy (MBI), Lisa Torlina successfully addressed unanswered questions on basic research in physics. To do so, she developed a theoretical framework for interpreting interactions between electrons and light pulses. Since 2001, the Marthe Vogt Award has been granted to women junior researchers specialising in areas of natural science investigated at FVB institutes. The doctoral dissertation must have been completed at a research facility in Berlin or Brandenburg. The award is valued at €3,000.
“I always wanted to know how the world works,” says Lisa Torlina, commenting on her research. So, she started studying how atoms and molecules interact with light pulses, and investigating the electron dynamics that are generated – big questions that basic research in physics has so far failed to answer. “Her doctoral thesis produced groundbreaking insights into problems that have been under discussion for decades,” says her supervisor, Professor Dr Olga Smirnova of MBI. She mentored her progress as a doctoral student at the Leibniz Graduate School, “Dynamics in New Light”. Under MBI management, the school supported doctoral candidates working on ultrashort and ultraintense light pulses during the period 2011-2015.
When the young researcher starts talking about electrons and their path through potential barriers, it soon becomes clear that she has turned a passion into a profession. Back in high school in Australia where she grew up, she was always attracted to natural sciences. “If you follow the rules in mathematics, you always know that you will arrive at the correct result, even if that result may seem counterintuitive at first”, says Lisa Torlina. In the field she is now engaged in, the objects of her investigations often behave in ways that you might not expect. If you throw a ball against a wall, for example, it shoots back at you. But when electrons hit an obstacle, there is a chance that they will tunnel through it. These movements are visualised by shining light pulses on atoms and electrons and looking at how the electrons respond, almost like in a photo. The electrons move so fast that their motion is measured in billionths of billionths of seconds, known as attoseconds. At the Theory Department of MBI the scientists modelled the process theoretically.
If you want to interpret observations of this kind, you need a very good theoretical description, and this is what Lisa Torlina’s framework has delivered: her “Analytical R‐Matrix Approach (ARM)” shows how to disentangle different effects coming from the interplay of electron interaction with light and with the atomic nucleus. It proves, for instance, that there is no passing of time when an electron initially bound inside an atom breaks through a potential barrier that keeps it from becoming free. In order to acquire this knowledge, Lisa Torlina spent a lot of time at her desk: only after months of calculations, with results that threw up new problems of their own, did she manage to test her theory on specific cases. “That’s how it goes in research,” says the scientist, remembering working on her doctorate. Today, she achieves much better results with her ARM tool than with previously established methods.
After completing her doctorate, Lisa Torlina became a postdoc at MBI – during her time at MBI she has seen eight publications in prestigious journals. Lisa Torlina speaks at international conferences and has now won the Marthe Vogt Award, a huge honour for the physicist. “Lisa Torlina is undoubtedly one of the most talented doctoral candidates I have ever worked with,” says her supervisor, relishing the junior researcher’s success.
Text: Alessa Wendland
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