Nobel Physics Prize Goes to Laser Scientists

By Ben Hamill - October 10 2018
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Gérard Mourou

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics has been shared by 3 scientists who make tools from light. Canadian Donna Strickland, Gérard Mourou of France, and American Arthur Ashkin were awarded for their pioneering work in laser physics.

According to an announcement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the physicists’ inventions were revolutionary. Capable of incredible precision, they allow scientists to explore new areas of research.  The Stockholm-based academy said they provided new insights on minuscule objects and high-speed processes, and have significant potential in medicine and industry.

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Strickland 3rd Woman Nobel Physicist

There have been 210 laureates since the first award in 1901, among whom only 3 are women. Strickland is one of them; the others being Marie Curie in 1903, and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963.

According to reports, the scientist, who was born in Guelph in 1959 and obtained her Ph.D. at Rochester University, USA, in 1989, was honored by her selection. She and Mourou shared half the prize for ground breaking work in high-intensity ultra-short optical pulses, known as Chirped Pulse Amplification. The two have worked together since 1985.

The technology enables precision cutting and drilling in living tissue as well as inorganic materials. Its most widespread application has been that of corrective eye surgery that has improved the lives of millions of people already.

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Ashkin Awarded for Optical Tweezers

Nicknamed the father of laser radiation pressure, Ashkin was born in New York in 1922, and obtained his Ph.D. at Cornell University. The oldest Nobel laureate, he shared half the prize for his optical tweezers, an invention that brought the real world and sci-fi closer together.

The tiny devices use laser beams as fingers to grasp living cells such as bacteria and viruses, as well as other particles. This is achieved using light’s radiation pressure, and does no harm or injury to the cell or particle being held. Ashkin made his major discovery in 1987.

The Optical Society noted that he was also the first to witness atoms being trapped optically, to perform Optical Molasses or cooling atoms with lasers, and the first to see atoms affected by optical gradient forces.

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Americans Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne. The scientists shared the prize for discovering the gravitational waves once predicted by Albert Einstein. Never observed directly before, the waves are ripples in the fabric of time and space caused by huge objects such as black holes.

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