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First woman in 55 years to win the Nobel Prize in Physics


Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, on Tuesday became the first woman in 55 years and the third ever to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing it with an American scientist and another from France for their work in laser physics.

The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences on Tuesday said half the nearly $1.29-million Cdn prize goes to Arthur Ashkin of the United States, and the other half will be shared by Strickland and Gérard Mourou.

The academy said Ashkin, who is the oldest person ever named as a laureate at 96, developed “optical tweezers” that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them.


Strickland, 59, and Mourou, 74, helped develop short and intense laser pulses that have “opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications,” it said.

Their work has led to therapies like laser eye surgery.

The two worked together while Strickland was a PhD student at the University of Rochester in New York. Mourou was a physics professor heading research into ultra-fast lasers, and in 1985, Mourou was lead author of a scientific paper detailing chirped pulse amplification (CPA) — a technique producing ultra-short and intense laser pulses.


Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate to be named in three years and is only the third woman winning in physics: Marie Curie earned the award in 1903 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.

“Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we’re out there. And hopefully in time it’ll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe,” Strickland said in a phone call with the academy after the prize announcement.

A 2011 profile on the University of Waterloo’s website said Strickland described herself as a “laser jock” who enjoyed the competitive rush, and was working on creating the shortest laser pulse with the biggest punch.

Research by Strickland and Mourou enabled new studies of matter by allowing scientists to produce more powerful bursts of laser light, said Michael Moloney, chief executive officer of the American Institute of Physics.

“We needed a new way to create the peak power of laser pulses,” Moloney said.

While laser eye surgery is the most familiar application of their work, it has also let scientists probe fundamental forces acting within matter at very high temperatures and pressures, Moloney said.

Ashkin’s work, which pinpointed a way to use lasers to manipulate tiny objects, has let scientists study how proteins operate in the body and how they interact, Moloney said.

The complete news can be found at CBC.

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