Photo: Wigner Fizikai Kutatóközpont
Győző Farkas, Széchenyi Prize laureate physicist, Doctor of physical sciences, Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Solid State Physics and Optics, Wigner Research Centre for Physics, has passed away at the age of 86. He was born in Kisnémedi on 25 November 1933. After graduating from the Piarist Grammar School in Vác as an honour student he continued his studies at Eötvös Loránd University, where he also excelled. In the final year of his studies (1956), he was invited by Károly Simonyi to work at the Central Research Institute for Physics (KFKI). However, after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 they both had to leave the institute. Farkas we later allowed to return to KFKI, where he started experiments to investigate the dual nature of light in Lajos Jánossy’s group. The Nobel Prize laureate Werner Heisenberg showed great interest in these experiments and visited the laboratory several times.
Later, Farkas started to investigate light-material interactions from completely new perspectives, since the first Hungarian lasers built at KFKI provided field strengths comparable with field strengths that keep electrons within atoms. The related experiments received favourable response from the international research community. One of the peaks of his scientific activities was the exploration of the generation of ultrashort, i.e. attosecond
(10–18) light pulses. In conjunction with his colleagues he developed and published a new theory in 1992, which is therefore considered by many as the year of birth of attosecond science. Győző Farkas is known worldwide as a father of attosecond physics. He also played a key role in bringing the ELI Attosecond Light Pulse Source (ELI-ALPS Research Centre) to Hungary and in laying its foundations. His activities were acknowledged with a series of awards, including the Principal Award of Physics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, (2000), the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, Officer’s Cross (2012) and the Széchenyi Prize (2014).
We remember him with an extract from one of his last interviews. When being told that according to hearsay he painted and played the electric piano in his free time he answered the following: “The explanation is simple. I grew up in a very poor peasant family, we often worked as day labourers: it was manual labour in earnest. I learned to respect manual labour. On the other hand, I realised the benefits of intellectual activities early on while being a student at the Piarist Grammar School: first, I did not have to pay tuition fee because I had good marks. Secondly, my teachers fostered a positive attitude towards humanities. Hence, I like both genres.”
We – his colleagues – were fortunate to work with such a knowledgeable yet modest man, who will be remembered by the Hungarian research community for a long time.