The study of the internal motion of atoms could depend on the ability to create light sensors capable of detecting movement over a period of attoseconds.
An attosecond is equivalent to one billionth of a billionth of a second and is the speciality of Professor Reinhard Kienberger.
He explains the significance of being able to take measurements at the subatomic scale over such short periods of time.
"This is the time scale on which the motion of electrons in an atom takes place," he says.
"With extremely short light pulses, we can make this motion visible and investigate it."
Professor Kienberger has already made a number of pioneering discoveries in physics at the attoscale.
They follow previous advances in femtoscale light pulses and X-ray characterisation in the mid-2000s.
In honour of his discoveries, Professor Kienberger has been named as the recipient of the International Commission for Optics (ICO) 2010 prize for outstanding scientific contributions.
The ICO notes the significance of 2010 as a milestone for the field of optics, as it marks the 50-year anniversary of the discovery of lasers.