Published: Thu, October 04, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Laser scientists win 2018 Nobel Physics Prize

Laser scientists win 2018 Nobel Physics Prize

Frenchman Gerard Mourou of the Ecole Polytechnique and University of MI will share half of the NZ$1.5 million the prize carries with Ms Strickland; Mr Ashkin gets the other half.

United States citizen Ashkin, 96, received the award "for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems", which enables radiation pressure of light to move physical objects, "an old dream of science fiction".

Half of the prize money - worth nine million Swedish kronor ($1m or £770,000) - will go to Arthur Ashkin, a retired physicist who was the first to invent "optical tweezers" whilst working at Bell Labs.

The inventions being honored this year have revolutionised laser physics.

Ashkin discovered that the "radiation pressure" from a beam of light could be used to move extremely small objects and hold them in position. The technique they developed opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications.

Ashkin had been experimenting with "single-beam gradient-force trapping" (what became known as optical tweezers) for more than 15 years when, in 1987, the breakthrough came: Ashkin used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them.

Mourou and Strickland "paved the way" for the most intense laser beams ever created by humans via a technique that stretches and then amplifies the light beam.

At the time, she said, many research groups were thinking about how to increase the power of laser pulses, but she and Dr. Mourou had a different idea. "I'm honored to be one of those women".

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Using an ingenious approach, they succeeded in creating ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material.

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.

The chemistry prize will be announced Wednesday, followed by the peace prize on Friday.

In 1939, Maria Goeppert Mayer had "predicted that an atom could absorb two photons", says Strickland. But the Nobel Prize has made special efforts to identify women scientists to be nominated for the prize.

"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".

Out of 923 total Nobel Prize laureates, only 48 of those have been women, and just three in the physics category.

Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate in any field in three years.

Last year, USA astrophysicists Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the physics prize for the discovery of gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity.

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