German physicist Theodor W. Hänsch said he was overwhelmed by winning the 2005 Nobel Physics Prize but admitted he had long believed his work was worthy of such an honor.
Theodor Hänsch said he hadn't expected to get the nod this year
"What can I say, naturally I am overwhelmed," Hänsch told AFP.
Hänsch, a physics professor at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, and American scientist John L. Hall shared half of the prize for their groundbreaking work on understanding light.
Their development of laser-based precision spectroscopy opens the way to the next generation of GPS navigation and ultra-precise atomic clocks.
How light emitted by a candle differs from the beam produced by a laser in a CD player, or how the already stunning accuracy of atomic clocks could be improved, were among questions this year's laureates had tackled successfully, the Nobel Academy said.
Interest beyond scientific community
Hänsch, 63, described his research as a "continuous project with many detours, meanders and also of course frustrations" which had led to findings that he knew would cause interest way beyond the scientific community.
"It was the sort of discovery that makes headlines quickly," he said.
He said he had believed that his work would win the Nobel Prize one day.
"I just hadn't expected it to come this year," he said.
Roy J. Glauber, an 80-year-old physics professor at Harvard University, won the other half of the Nobel Prize for establishing the basis of quantum optics, which explained the fundamental difference between sources of light such as light bulbs and lasers.
"As long as humans have populated the Earth, we have been fascinated by optical phenomena and gradually unravelled the nature of light," the Academy said. "With the aid of light, we can orient ourselves in our daily lives or observe the most distant galaxies of the universe."
Glauber's pioneering work on applying quantum physics to optical phenomena is over four decades old, being first reported in 1963.
The landmark development by Hall and Hänsch of the so-called optical frequency comb technique is much more recent, dating from the late 1990s, and shed new light on the difference between matter and anti-matter, as well as allowing time to be measured with unsurpassed precision.
Following Einstein's lead
The 2005 prize comes exactly a century after Albert Einstein's "annus mirabilis" -- the miracle year in which the German-born genius wrote papers that smashed barriers to knowledge about the physical universe and reshaped our perception of it.
Among Einstein's achievements was ground-breaking work on the nature of light, a foundation upon which all three of this year's Nobel winners built their work.
Light was first described in the mid-19th century as a form of waves. Einstein, in his theory of the so-called photo-electric effect, also identified light as "lumpy" form, made of particles of energy called photons. He won the 1921 Nobel Prize for this.
The 2005 laureates will receive a gold medal and share a check for 10 million Swedish crowns (1.1 million euros, $1.3 million) at the formal prize ceremony held, as tradition dictates, on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize's creator, Alfred Nobel.