American, Frenchman, Canadian win Nobel for work with lasers

Pablo Tucker
October 2, 2018

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to American Arthur Ashkin, Frenchman Gérard Mourou and Canadian Donna Strickland for work on tools made from light.

Mr. Ashkin developed optical tweezers that can grab particles, .

The two "paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by humankind", a technique now used in corrective eye surgery.

Simplified illustration of the laser technology developed by Strickland and Morou
Simplified illustration of the laser technology developed by Strickland and Morou

Strickland is the third female physics laureate to win the prize, and the first since Maria Goeppert-Mayer who won 55 years ago for her discoveries about the nuclei of atoms. "I'm honored to be one of those women", Strickland said, according to the Nobel Prize Foundation.

Strickland is the third ever woman to win the prize, first awarded in 1901. And hopefully in time it'll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe.

Göran K. Hansson of the Nobel Foundation said part of the issue is that they often goes back in time to award prizes, a process which can take a lot of time to verify.

Ashkin, who made his discovery while working at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1952 to 1991, is the oldest victor of a Nobel prize, beating out American Leonid Hurwicz who was 90 when he won the 2007 Economics Prize. Millions of eye operations are performed every year with the sharpest of laser beams.

Mourou, born in 1944 in Albertville, France and Strickland, born 1959 in Guelph, Canada, have worked together since 1985, when they published a revolutionary article that would become the basis of Strickland's thesis. "I thought there might have been more but I couldn't think", said the physicist during the ceremony.

Strickland says her first thought on hearing she'd won the physics prize was "it's insane".

It has insisted that it is not due to male chauvinism bias on the award committees, instead attributing it to the fact that laboratory doors were closed to women for so long.

On Monday, American James Allison and Japan's Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel medicine prize for groundbreaking work in fighting cancer with the body's own immune system.

Ashkin is the oldest ever Nobel prize victor - but the 96-year-old is still busy with fresh research.

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