Nobel Prize for Physics goes to US, French and Canadian scientists

Wednesday, 03 October 2018, 04:07 Hrs
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The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded on Tuesday to Arthur Ashkin of the US, Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada, making her the third woman to receive the prestigious award.

The trio of laureates won the prize for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.

Ashkin received the prize for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems, while Mourou and Strickland were jointly awarded for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

Strickland became the first woman to receive the award in 55 years after Marie Curie won it in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. 

"We need to celebrate women physicists because we're out there. I'm honoured to be one of those women," Strickland said in a news conference following the announcement in Stockholm.

Speaking about being the third woman to ever win the award, she said she thought there might have been more, adding: "Hopefully in time it will start to move forward at a faster rate."

The inventions have revolutionised laser physics, as extremely small objects and incredibly rapid processes were now being seen in a new light.

Ashkin's optical tweezers are able to grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with their laser beam fingers, allowing the American researcher to realise "an old dream of science fiction - using the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects". 

The tweezers can capture living bacteria without harming them, a breakthrough he achieved back in 1987. Since then, these instruments have been widely used "to investigate the machinery of life", the Academy explained.

Mourou and Strickland, on the other hand, created ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material, thus paving the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by mankind.

Their innovative technique, known as "chirped pulse amplification", has now become standard for high-intensity lasers, including the ultra-sharp beams used in corrective eye surgeries.

Ashkin, a New Yorker born in 1922, pursued his Ph.D at the prestigious Cornell University and conducted his Nobel-winning research at Bell Laboratories.

Mourou (born in 1944 in Albertville, France), was the founding director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan.

Strickland, who was born near Toronto, Canada in 1959, obtained her Ph.D at the University of Rochester with Mourou as her advisor, jointly developing the CPA technique. 

The award announcement came one day after a senior scientist with Cern, the academic home to a number of Nobel prize winners, was suspended for saying that physics was invented and built by men.

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