Published: Thu, October 04, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

Three laser scientists win Nobel Prize for Physics

Three laser scientists win Nobel Prize for Physics

It said the prize of 9 million kronor ($1 million) will be shared one-half by Ashkin and the other half jointly by Mourou and Strickland.

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace have been awarded since 1901 in accordance with the will of Swedish business tycoon Alfred Nobel, whose discovery of dynamite generated a vast fortune used to fund the prize.

Arthur Ashkin, from the U.S., was awarded half the £770,000 (9 million Swedish kronor) prize, with the other half shared by Gerard Mourou of France and Canadian Donna Strickland.

Both inventions had "revolutionized laser physics", the Royal Swedish Academy said.

Mr Mourou and Ms Strickland helped develop short and intense laser pulses that have broad industrial and medical applications. Although Ashkin, in the mid 1980s, originally meant to use the technique to manipulate atoms, he soon moved onto larger particles and then biological objects, including viruses and living cells. She and Mourou found a way to produce a powerful laser pulse that lasts an nearly unimaginably short period of time.

In a statement after receiving the prize, Strickland said "We need to celebrate women physicists because they're out there..."

She said that while women rarely won the top honours in science, demographics were changing rapidly and awards bodies needed to keep up with changing demographics.

Before Dr Strickland and Dr Mourou's pioneering work, the peak power of laser pulses was limited because, when cranked up to high intensities, they would destroy the material used for amplifying its energy.

Strickland says she has not yet spoken to Gérard Mourou, her doctoral adviser and the physicist with whom she shares the Nobel Prize.

"And with me here on podium is, to my right, Professor Olga Botner, the chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, and on my left side, Professor Mats Larsson, who is the member of the committee and an expert in the field of this year's prize..."

Atlas Obscura, an online database of "the world's most wondrous places and foods" was the first to point out on Tuesday - the same day that Strickland was named a victor - that Goeppert-Mayer was referred to in news coverage as a "San Diego Mother". Mourou was her supervisor.

"Their innovative work can be found in applications including corrective eye surgery, and is expected to have a significant impact on cancer therapy and other physics research in the future".

When a laser pulse is compressed in time and becomes shorter, more light is packed into a small space. While Arthur at 96-years of age, is the oldest person to receive the prize, Donna is the first woman physics Nobel laureate since 1963. One of the most notable cases is of British astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars but was passed over for the award, which was given to her supervisor Antony Hewish in 1974. But the Nobel Prize has made special efforts to identify women scientists to be nominated for the prize.

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