The 2018 Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists for advancing the science of lasers and creating extremely useful tools out of laser beams.
The winners include Arthur Ashkin, 96, a retired American physicist who worked Bell Labs; Gerard Mourou, 74, now at the École Polytechnique in France and University of Michigan; and Donna Strickland, 59, now at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
These scientists are responsible for two important inventions. One is laser tweezers, which allow scientists to manipulate microscopic particles (often viruses and bacteria) within a laser beam. The second is a technology that led to the rapid increase of laser beam intensity, which has allowed for laser-based tools, including the beams commonly used in laser eye surgery.
Ashkin, who took half of the $1 million prize, invented the optical tweezers in his work with Bell Labs in the 1980s. Mourou and Strickland worked on laser amplification at the University of Rochester, also in the 1980s.
Dr. Strickland is just the third woman to have ever won the Nobel prize in physics. The prize has not been awarded to a woman since 1963 when Maria Goeppert-Mayer won for her work on atomic structure and before that was in 1903 when Marie Curie won for her work on radioactivity.
Dr Strickland noted, “We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. Hopefully, in time, it will start to move forward at a faster rate.”
In Canada, social media is buzzing with excitement over the news, including SNOLAB. Nigel Smith, Executive Director of SNOLAB joined in on the excitement; “What a wonderful achievement for Arthur, Gerard and Donna. This is a further demonstration of the strength of the global physics programme and we send our congratulations for a well-deserved award. Donna personifies the curiosity-driven commitment to science that fuels innovation and benefits all of us. We hope her historic win will inspire future generations of young innovators.”