Nobel Prize winner Pierre Agostini visits Ohio State for a homecoming celebration.

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The Ohio State University graduate students pulled out a couple of Indian rupees and pens. Their subject was within arm’s reach. Now they just had to decide who would ask for an autograph first.

The celebrity in question? Nobel Prize winner and Ohio State professor emeritus Pierre Agostini.

Agostini, who was one of three winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics for his study of electron dynamics in matter, returned to Columbus Wednesday for a homecoming visit.

Dozens of students and faculty members cheered as Agostini walked into the Physics Research Building on Ohio State’s campus. Many wore scarlet-colored T-shirts congratulating Agostini’s achievement and shook pompoms as he passed by. Even Brutus Buckeye showed up to celebrate the university’s second-ever faculty Nobel Prize winner.

Ramanathan approached Agostini first; Mukherjee quickly followed. They both walked away with an autograph and a handshake.

“This is certainly worth more now,” Ramanathan said with a laugh, holding up his autographed 20 rupee bill, equal to about one U.S. quarter.

Ramanathan and Mukherjee, both second-year graduate students in OSU’s Department of Physics, said meeting Agostini was an exciting and humbling experience.

Nobel laureate Pierre Agostini is welcomed by students and staff Wednesday as he returns for a visit to the Ohio State University Physics Research building. Agostini, an Ohio State professor emeritus, donated a 24-karat gold replica of his Nobel Prize to the university, which plans to make it part of a permanent display in the building's lobby.

“I had goosebumps when he was walking in,” Ramanathan said.

“It raises the value of your degree with the Nobel Prize winner coming from your department,” Mukherjee said.

Agostini arrived at Ohio State in 2005 and retired in 2018. His work through the Agostini-DiMauro Atomic Physics Research Group focused on the interaction between atoms and intense laser pulses on an atomic timescale. It was the first lab of its kind established in the U.S., said Louis DiMauro, an Ohio State physics professor and the Dr. Edward E. and Sylvia Hagenlocker Chair.

Agostini shared the Nobel Prize award with Hungarian-Austrian physicist Ferenc Krausz from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and French physicist Anne L’Huillier from Lund University in Sweden.

Their winning work explored how electrons move inside molecules and atoms. Electrons move at speeds of 43 miles per second, making them nearly impossible to study. The trio discovered a new experimental technique to capture an electron’s movement at a single moment in time using ultra-short pulses of light.

Nobel Laureate Pierre Agostini laughs Wedsnesday as he is interviewed at the Ohio State University's Physics Research Building on the Columbus main campus. Agostini is an OSU professor emeritus.

Those pulses of light last an attosecond, measuring at one quintillionth of a second. Attoseconds research has broad applications in industries like medicine and electronics, but it also helps deepens researchers’ understanding of physics itself, DiMauro said.

Although he lives in France, Agostini still visits the OSU campus a few times a year. This time around, he brought a special gift with him: A 24-karat gold replica of his Nobel Prize medal.

“I was really proud to be your representative of OSU’s scientific community in Stockholm,” Agostini told a crowd of students and faculty. “So I give this medal as a token of my gratitude to OSU and its physics department.”

Agostini handed the medal to Michael G. Poirier, professor and chair of Ohio State’s Department of Physics.

“I’ve never held this much gold before,” Poirier quipped.

Michael Poirier, left, professor and chair of the Ohio State Department of Physics, holds a 24-karat gold replica of the 2023 Nobel Prize awarded to retired OSU faculty member and professor emeritus Pierre  Agostini on Wednesday at the OSU Physics Research Building. Agostini donated the replica to Ohio State to be displayed in the building. He and two other researchers won the Nobel Prize for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of electron dynamics in matter.

“Pierre has been such a wonderful mentor over the years,” Poirier added. “Training young people in science is the way to have the most impact.”

The medal and information about Agostini’s research will eventually be put on permanent display in the Physics Research Building’s lobby.

Ohio State professor emeritus Pierre Agostini, the second-ever faculty Nobel Prize winner, is welcomed by students and staff Wednesday as he enters the Ohio State University Physics Research Building for a homecoming visit.

Agostini was visibly humbled by the planned display and Wednesday’s welcoming event.

“It’s very flattering. I hope they can sell those t-shirts,” Agostini said, referring to the number of students’ shirts he autographed.