The world is a dreamland for the ones who love to do the impossible and with time we continue to hear about people who achieve what one can only imagine. After more than 50 years, Donna Strickland has become the first woman to win Nobel Prize in Physics. With that, she has also become the third woman recipient of the award in Nobel Prize history.
Dr. Strickland, the pride of Canada now, has shared this year’s prize with Arthur Ashkin, from the US, and Gerard Mourou, from France. Their efforts in the field of laser physics have been finally admired by the Nobel Prize committee and it is indeed a major milestone achieved in the field of physics.
Initially, Dr. Ashkin started developing a laser technique, described as optical tweezers, which assisted in studying biological systems. But then, Drs Mourou and Strickland came up with their own contribution as they paved the way for the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created. This technique is called Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) and can be used in laser therapy targeting cancer and numerous laser eye surgeries.
On her remarkable achievement, Dr. Strickland was rather surprised and told that she was always treated equally along with the other two men who won the award. In fact, she wasn’t aware of the fact that no woman has been able to do get the Nobel prize for a long time now.
“First of all you have to think it’s crazy, so that was my first thought. And you do always wonder if it’s real. As far as sharing it with Gerard, of course he was my supervisor and mentor and he has taken CPA to great heights so he definitely deserves this award. And I’m so happy Art Ashkin also won.”
She added: “I think that he made so many discoveries early on that other people have done great things with that it’s fantastic that he is finally recognised.”
Prior to this, a physicist at Cern Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva gave an extremely offensive lecture in which he stated that physics has been solely built by men and there is discrimination going on against them. He got suspended for this later.
When Dr. Strickland was asked about this, she said that she never takes such remarks personally and considers them as only stupid.
Before Dr. Strickland and Dr. Mourou’s brought the revolutionary change, the peak power of laser pulses was limited because when they used to push it with high intensities, it eventually ended up destroying the material used for amplifying its energy.
To overcome this issue, the researchers together first stretched the laser pulses in time to decrease their peak power, then amplified them and finally compressed them. This was done so that when the laser pulse is compressed in time and shrinks, more light could gather into a small space which would increase the intensity of the pulse in a better way.
The chirped pulse amplification (CPA), a technique developed by Dr. Strickland and Dr. Mourou’s became the industry standard for high-intensity lasers.
Arthur Ashkin, on the other hand, used the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects, which was once a dream in science fiction. The optical tweezers today are widely used to grab particles, atoms, viruses and living cells with their laser-based pincers.
He began by pushing small particles towards the center of the beam and held them there. But then eventually in 1987, he captured living bacteria with those tweezers without bringing any harm to them. This method has brought immense possibilities for studying the machinery of life.
Dr. Strickland’s name comes after German-born American physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who took the award for her discoveries about the nuclei of atoms in 1963. The oldest and first woman to get this award, however, was Polish-born physicist Marie Curie who shared the 1903 award with her husband Pierre Curie and Antoine Henri Becquerel for their research into radioactivity.
The award has a worth of nine million Swedish kronor (£770,686; $998,618).