American scientist shares Nobel Prize for work in laser physics

Nobel Physics Prize Awarded to Trio for Laser Work

Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland Win 2018 Nobel Prize In Physics For Laser Inventions

Together, their achievements mark groundbreaking achievements in the field of laser physics.

Optical tweezers are, and have been, used to assemble cells to form intricate bio-networks, to manipulate atoms to undergo specific chemical reactions and to study how proteins interact with DNA.

Strickland and Gerard Mourou of École Polytechnique in France and the University of MI were jointly honored with a Nobel for their pioneering technique to create the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever.

The 59-year-old Guelph, Ont., native made the discovery while completing her PhD at the University of Rochester in NY and will share half of the US$1.01-million prize with her doctoral adviser, French physicist Gerard Mourou. Marie Curie won the physics prize in 1903 and the chemistry Nobel Prize in 1911.

The awards, endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, are each worth 9 million kronor ($1m) this year.

A 2011 profile on the University of Waterloo website says Strickland described herself as a "laser jock" who enjoyed the competitive rush, and was working on creating the shortest laser pulse with the biggest punch. And you do always wonder if it's real.

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The two "paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by humankind", the committee said.

Strickland and the third victor, Frenchman Gerard Mourou of the Ecole Polytechnique and University of MI, developed a way to generate high-intensity, ultra-short bursts of laser light. This dramatically increases the intensity of the pulse.

Mourou and Strickland's technique, known as chirped pulse amplification, boosts the power of a laser pulse to petawatt (10 W) levels. (A committee member demonstrated this phenomenon during the news conference by using a hair dryer to suspend a pingpong ball in the air.) By further focusing the beam with a lens, he developed a "light trap" that could hold a small spherical object in place.

Ashkin wins half of the prize for his development of "optical tweezers" which have allowed tiny organisms to be handled with light beams. Born in 1922 in NY, he was the first physicist to observe optical gradient forces on atoms and observe optical trapping of atoms, and the first to perform laser cooling of atoms, known as "optical molasses", according to the Optical Society of America. The technique is today used in corrective eye surgery. The last time the award was presented to a woman occurred 55 years ago, when Maria Goeppert-Mayer received the 1963 award for her contribution to discovering atomic nuclei structure.

Mourou is the recipient to many awards like the Wood Prize from the Optical Society of America, the Edgerton Prize from the SPIE, the Sarnoff Prize from the IEEE, and the 2004 IEEE/LEOS Quantum Electronics Award.

2013 - Francois Englert and Peter Higgs shared the spoils for formulating the theory of the Higgs boson particle.

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