Nobel Prize in Physics jointly awarded to trio of laser physics inventors

Muriel Hammond
October 5, 2018

Strickland is only the third woman in history to win the physics prize.

Meanwhile Mourou, 74, and Strickland won for helping develop a method to generate ultra-short optical pulses, "the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by mankind", the jury said.

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.

At 96, Ashkin is the oldest ever Nobel prize victor, but he is still busy with fresh research. "After a week where a woman has been forced to describe her sexual assault to a live television audience of billions, and an academic at a prestigious university has said that women are unfairly promoted into senior positions in physics, even I - the eternal optimist - was starting to lose hope".

The work of the three winners constitutes "fundamental breakthroughs in physics that led to tools that are now being used all over science", said Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

She has been teaching at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, since 1997, where she oversees an ultrafast laser lab and works with a team of undergraduate and graduate students.

Dr Strickland has said she enjoys the competitive rush of pushing the boundaries of what lasers can do.

A reporter asked the physicist how it felt to be in the company of so few women. He is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the world's most preeminent award for outstanding discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine. "I think... it's somewhat thinking outside the box to stretch first, and then amplify". And though it's reassuring to hear that Dr. Strickland has not experienced harassment based on her gender in her career, these experiences are a definite departure from numerous contemporary conversations had around sexism in the science industry.

The Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to three researchers from the USA and Canada for their "groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics". "This was at the very beginning of her career, but she's done a million things since then and that's the dream".


"Extremely small objects and incredibly fast processes now appear in a new light", it wrote. Marie Curie was the first woman to win the honour in 1903.

These became the standard for high-intensity lasers used, for example, in millions of corrective eye surgeries per year.

The two scientists devised a way to amplify short laser pulses without damaging the material used to do so or resorting to larger, more expensive lasers and equipment.

Mourou and Strickland are honored for their "chirped pulse amplification" - a technique that has allowed researchers to boost the power of lasers. "I'm honoured to be one of those women", she said.

"I was always afraid I wasn't smart enough", he said.

Mourou had been her PhD supervisor.

In 2017, the academy released figures indicating that since since the prize was founded in 1901, women have won 49 out of 923 prizes. "This gives a beacon for further conversations about women in science and technology".

The University of Waterloo issued its congratulations to Strickland on Tuesday morning.

"(It was) a big relief for my client, who today believes in justice", she said.

Other reports by

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER