Physics Nobel for three scientists who turned laser light into tools

Carlton Robbins
October 2, 2018

They are Arthur Ashkin, a researcher at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, Gerard Mourou, a professor emeritus both at Ecole Polytechnique in France and the University of MI, and Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics this morning for their groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.

Optical tweezers grab viruses and other living cells "with their laser beam fingers", the Nobel committee explained. Strickland's work is commendable, yes, but she has become the first woman to "attain" this distinction in 55 years.

Ashkin used his new tool to hold a particle in place, then an atom, and eventually, in 1987, a living bacterium. And you do always wonder if it's real.

"Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we're out there", she said.

Ashkin spent two decades studying the properties of lasers, first recognizing that objects could be drawn toward the center of a beam, where the radiation was most intense. Among this year's top contenders were scientists who worked on a technology which showcased the development of solar cells based on a class of mineral called perovskites, devices whose performance is on par with that of silicon solar cells, and which are less costly and energy-intensive to produce.

"We invented a technique that made the laser extremely powerful", he said.

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Mourou and Strickland are honored for their "chirped pulse amplification" - a technique that has allowed researchers to boost the power of lasers.

We've got more newsletters we think you'll find interesting. It quickly became a standard for subsequent high-intensity lasers finding many varied applications including in the life-changing corrective eye surgeries that are so common today.

Reacting to her win, Dr Strickland, who is based at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said: "First of all you have to think it's insane, so that was my first thought". Take a short laser pulse, stretch it in time, amplify it and squeeze it together again.

Strickland is the first woman to be named a Nobel laureate since 2015.

Wednesday: Nobel Prize in chemistry will be awarded. One morning, after he had left them overnight, the samples contained large particles that moved "hither and thither", as the Nobel committee charmingly put it.

The inventions by the three scientists date back to the mid-1980s and over the years they have revolutionized laser physics.

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