Olga Smirnova

mbi-olga-smirnovaName: Olga Smirnova
Nationality: Russian
Date of birth: 12 July 1973

Short CV:
1996: graduated in Physics, Moscow State University, Russia
2000: PhD in Physics, Moscow State University, Russia

Field : Strong Field Interaction with Atoms and Molecules

Research interests: Strong-field and attosecond physics, High Harmonic Spectroscopy, Ultrafast spectroscopy of chiral molecules, Nonlinear dynamics.

2010        Karl-Scheel-Preis of Physikalischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin
2009        SAW award of Leibniz society: funds to establish junior group and maintain it  for 3 years
2003        Lise-Meitner Fellowship of Austrian Science Foundation (FWF)

Current position:
Professor of Physics, Technical University Berlin, Germany
Group Leader, Max Born Institute, Berlin, Germany

I was fascinated with physics since I first got hold of a children’s book which described how atoms are made of nuclei and electrons. I think that I was about five years old at that time. And since I was 13, I knew that I wanted to be a physicist, and that I wanted to study at the Moscow State University.

When I was a child in what was then the Soviet Union, the status of science and education in the country was high, but by the time I started at the University, the Soviet Union was collapsing and the science and education were disintegrating, as they were no longer among the country’s priorities. There was simply no money left.

I graduated in 1996 and started my PhD, looking initially at the signatures of classically chaotic dynamics in nonlinear response of quantum systems to light.

The project looked extremely interesting and exciting, I could eventually see  the signatures of chaotic dynamics in the rather complicated analytical expressions for non-linear susceptibilities of chaotic systems, derived after a couple of years of hard work,  but the final and ultimate  proof required extensive numerical analysis which has not been available at that time. Fortunately, as an aside, I started to look at extreme nonlinear response to really intense laser fields, where the electric field strength is comparable to the electrostatic field that binds electrons in atoms. Such fields completely restructure the atom, dictating the behavior of the electrons. It was this work that has become the central part of my PhD thesis, which I have defended in 2000. This experience has taught me an important lesson: research projects do not always work out the way you originally planned, but even then it will inevitably lead you to new questions and new ideas. Just keep your mind open! Shortly after I obtained my PhD, I started my term as an Assistant Professor teaching and supervising students at the Moscow State University.

My work on extreme nonlinear optics and ultrafast electronic response to intense laser fields has naturally led me to attosecond physics, and in 2003 I left Moscow State University for Vienna, to join one of the world leading attosecond groups as Lise Meitner Fellow. The group was led by Prof. Ferenc Krausz at the Vienna Technical University, and I have joined the theory team of Prof. Armin Scrinzi, who taught me how to appreciate and use the numerical methods. Complementing my expertise in analytical approaches by the new skills in numerical methods was extremely useful and helped me to develop many projects in the future.  I have spent two amazing years in Vienna, both scientifically and culturally. For the first time I felt what does it mean to be immersed in the atmosphere created by the people advancing the frontiers of science, the excitement of interacting with these brilliant people and the amazing experiments.

In 2005 I moved to the second world center for attosecond science, in Ottawa, Canada, led by Prof. Paul Corkum at the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences of the National Research Council of Canada. There I met many brilliant scientists and had a lot of fun working with them on developing the foundations of high harmonic spectroscopy. High harmonic spectroscopy allows one to make ‘movies’ of how charges flow between different atoms in a molecule. The ‘movies’ are made by illuminating the molecule with intense laser light and recording the new light, at much shorter wavelengths, emitted by the molecule. This light encodes the motion of electrons in the molecule with extraordinary temporal resolution: several tens of ‘frames’ in this movie are fit within a single femtosecond – one billionth of a billionth of a second. What’s more, the sub-femtosecond temporal resolution can be combined with spatial resolution of about one angstrom, and this is why we talk about making sub-femtosecond ‘movies’. In our joint work we have shown how to develop these movies, finding ways to decode the ‘images’ stored in all properties of the emitted light – its intensity, phase, and polarization. I have made many friends in Canada and I continue to collaborate with them to this day.

In 2006 I have become a permanent staff member at NRC, and in 2008 I have obtained SAW grant to start my own research group at the Max Born Institute in Berlin, Germany. In 2016 I have become a full Professor at the Berlin Technical University, which is a joint appointment with the MBI.

Understanding dynamical processes often relies on our ability to resolve them in time. Attosecond science is developed to open a window into the world of correlated multi-electron dynamics in atoms, molecules, clusters and solids. Our work is a part of this direction. Our research goals include time- and space-resolved imaging and control of electron dynamics such as charge migration, electron rearrangement, autoionization, coupling of electronic and vibrational dynamics in molecules. We develop new tools and ideas that help us image and understand coherent attosecond electron dynamics in molecules.