Nobel laureates

IOP applauds Nobel Prize for laser physicists and hails third female laureate

Nobel laureates
© Nobel Media AB 2018

The IOP congratulates this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics – who include only the third female laureate in physics in the history of the prize.

The 2018 award was given for “ground-breaking inventions in the field of laser physics”, with half of the £770,000 prize going to Professor Arthur Ashkin “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems” and the other half shared between Professor Gérard Mourou and Dr Donna Strickland “for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses”.

Dr Donna Strickland
University of Waterloo

Asked how she felt about being only the third female physics laureate, Dr Strickland (right) said during the announcement: “We need to celebrate women physicists because we are out there and hopefully in time it will move forward at a faster rate. I am honoured to be one of those women.” The first female winner of the prize was Marie Curie in 1903 and the second was Maria Goeppert-Mayer, for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus, in 1963.

At a press briefing, Professor Olga Botner, who chairs the Nobel Committee for Physics, described the many applications of lasers from manufacturing to optical disk drives and laser surgery. She said: “The laser is truly one of the many examples of how a so-called blue-sky discovery in fundamental science eventually may transform our daily lives.”

Professor Ashkin, of Bell Laboratories in the US, invented optical tweezers and achieved a major breakthrough in 1987 when he used them to capture living bacteria without harming them and immediately began studying biological systems.

Professor Gérard Mourou
©École Polytechnique

Professor Mourou (right), of the École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, and Dr Strickland, of the University of Waterloo, Canada, worked together at the University of Michigan in the US to create ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material. Their newly invented technique, called chirped pulse amplification, soon became standard for subsequent high-intensity lasers, the uses of which include corrective eye surgery.

Responding to the announcement, our Chief Executive Officer, Professor Paul Hardaker, said: “I always enjoy the Nobel announcements and joining in with the celebrations. It’s just another reminder of the huge contribution that physics, and science more widely, make to society.

“It is particularly special to see a female physicist recognised for the first time in 55 years – let’s hope this becomes the norm and not the exception.

“Congratulations to all three Laureates.”

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