Woman among laser pioneers to win Physics Nobel

A woman scientist was among three who won 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday.

Arthur Ashkin of the US, Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada, above, (Credit: University of Waterloo) were honoured for their discoveries that “revolutionised laser physics.”

Ashkin, 96, became the oldest person to win a Nobel. He developed ‘optical tweezers’ that can grab tiny particles like viruses with their laser beam fingers without harming them.

The academy said an old dream of science fiction came true as Ashkin was able to use the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects. He made the breakthrough in 1987 while working at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

One half of the $1 million prize money will go to him. Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland will share the other half.

Strickland and Mourou “paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by humankind”, the academy said.

The technique is used in corrective eye surgery and several other medical and industrial applications.

Strickland became the third woman to win a Nobel Physics Prize since its inception in 1901. The first Nobel Physics Prize went to Marie Curie in 1903 and the second to Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.

Strickland, professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said more women physicists deserve the prize, a wish shared by the academy which linked the present imbalance to the low presence of women in laboratories.

Mourou, Strickland’s teacher and affiliated with the Ecole Polytechnique of France and the University of Michigan in the US, was involved in Extreme Light Infrastructure project and developing Apollon, regarded as one of the world’s most powerful lasers.

Mourou’s discoveries are expected to help in clearing nuclear waste, debris in space and treating tumours.