Laser Pioneers Win Nobel Physics Prize
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – October 4, 2018
Three scientists won the Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday, including the first woman to receive the prestigious award in 55 years, for inventing optical lasers that have paved the way for advanced precision instruments used in corrective eye surgery.
Announced every year, the Nobel Prize recognizes achievements in science coming out of a number of fields. Prizes are awarded for discoveries and advances, which means teams working on research can win and share them together.
This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded on Tuesday to Arthur Ashkin of the United States, Gérard Mourou of France, and Donna Strickland of Canada.
Dr Ashkin secured a whole half of the monetary prize, worth about $1 million, for creating a tool named “laser tweezers” that uses the pressure from a highly focused laser beam to manipulate microscopic objects, including living organisms such as viruses and bacteria.
Mourou and Strickland worked together and secured the rest of the prize for their work on laser amplification, allowing lasers themselves to be used as more effective tools. The work has had a wide range of real-world applications, enabling manufacturers to drill tiny, precise holes and allowing for the invention of Lasik eye surgery.
Dr. Ashkin was born in 1922 in New York City. He earned an undergraduate degree in physics from Columbia in 1947. He received a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Cornell in 1952 and joined Bell Labs, the longtime hotbed of innovation and Nobel Prizes, in Murray Hill, N.J., where he worked until 1991.
Dr. Mourou was born in Albertville, France, in 1944 and earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Grenoble in 1973. Currently he is a professor at the École Polytechnique in France and director of the International Center for Zetta-Exawatt Science and Technology, which is devoted to the study of high-intensity, ultrafast laser pulses.
Dr. Mourou spent thirty years in the United States at the University of Michigan, where he remains an emeritus professor, and at the University of Rochester. It was at the latter school that he took on Dr. Strickland as a graduate student.
Dr. Strickland, who was born in Guelph, Canada, in 1959, is only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics. She is an associate professor at the Canadian University of Waterloo, where she focusses her research on laser development.
Her department biography states: “Dr. Strickland’s ultrafast laser group develops high-intensity laser systems for nonlinear optics investigations.”
Dr Strickland’s research has enabled the development of a high intensity laser capable of producing short bursts of energy, vital in accelerating understanding of molecular particles.
Only two other women before Dr. Strickland have won the Nobel Prize: Marie Curie in 1903, for her work with radiation phenomena, and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963, for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus.
The Nobel Prize isn’t just for physics, as it is introduced in six different categories for significant scientific advancement, including Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine, as was laid out in the will of scientist Alfred Nobel.
On his death, significant funds from the Nobel family business — rooted in oil — were put towards rewarding those who serve humanity.
The Nobel Foundation was established in 1895 with shares of 94% of his fortune, and is the primary economy of the prize, which rewards scientists who have made advancements serving humanity with a sum of $1 million every year.