Published: Tue, October 02, 2018
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

American scientist shares Nobel Prize for work in laser physics

American scientist shares Nobel Prize for work in laser physics

This year's Nobel Prize for Physics is to be shared by three scientists for their groundbreaking work on lasers.

Strickland's award was the first Nobel Prize in physics to go to a woman since 1963, when it was won by Maria Goeppert-Mayer; the only other woman to win for physics was Marie Curie in 1903.

Askkin will receive half of the 9 million krona ($1.01 million) Nobel Prize award, and Mourou and Strickland will share the other half. When Göran Hansson, who announced the prize and is the secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, reached him by phone and asked if he could speak to reporters, Ashkin said he was too busy with his latest paper. Ashkin, who worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey, gets the other half.

In 2008, she was named a fellow of the Optical Society of America for her pioneering work in the field of ultrafast laser and optical science. Strickland, 59, is now a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

The Guelph-born Strickland, who is in her 50s, is an associate professor at Waterloo.

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The Nobel was divided between two major innovations in laser technology. The particles turned out to be bacteria that, when they approached the laser beam, were caught in the light trap. "I thought there might have been more but I couldn't think", said the physicist during the ceremony.

With CPA, Mourou and Strickland shattered this wall, sparking a trend that allowed lasers to, on average, double in intensity twice per decade. After magnifying its power, the beam was re-compressed, creating a short but highly energetic burst of laser light.

Around the same time, Mourou and Strickland were working together at the University of Rochester to overcome a problem that had dogged laser research for decades: High intense laser beams tended to destroy the material used to amplify them.

These innovations in light give researchers access to manipulate and study interactions that are too tiny or too fast for conventional methods. "The laser is truly one of the many examples of how a so-called blue sky discovery in a fundamental science eventually may transform our daily lives". Ashkin's optical tweezers enable scientists to cut, move, contain and inspect particles like strands of DNA and individual cell organelles.

"The inventions being honoured this year have revolutionised laser physics".

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