Scientists Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland have won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics for breakthroughs in the field of lasers used for surgery as well as scientific study.
- Arthur Ashkin invented optical ‘tweezers’ that can grab tiny particles including viruses and atoms
- Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland separately created the shortest and most powerful laser pulses ever
- Dr Ashkin is the oldest ever Nobel laureate; Dr Strickland only the third female physics laureate
American Dr Ashkin of Bell Laboratories in the United States won half of the prize while Frenchman Dr Mourou, who also has US citizenship, and Canadian Dr Strickland shared the other half.
Dr Strickland, of the University of Waterloo, Canada, becomes only the third woman to win a Nobel prize for physics — the first was Marie Curie in 1903 — and the first woman to win any Nobel prize since 2015.
“The inventions being honoured this year have revolutionised laser physics,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on awarding the $1.39 million prize.
“Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications.”
Dr Ashkin invented optical “tweezers” that could grab particles, atoms, viruses and even living cells without harming them.
Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences, which chose the winners, said Dr Ashkin’s optical tweezers realised “an old dream of science fiction — using the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects.”
The tweezers are “extremely important for measuring small forces on individual molecules, small objects, and this has been very interesting in biology, to understand how things like muscle tissue work, what are the molecule motors behind the muscle tissue,” said David Haviland of the academy’s Nobel committee.
At 96, Dr Ashkin is the oldest person ever named as a laureate for any of the prestigious awards.
Leonid Hurwicz was 90 and Lloyd Shapley 89 when they won the economics prize in 2007 and 2012 respectively, however the economics prize was not part of the awards established by industrialist Alfred Nobel’s will.
The oldest winners of the prizes established by the will were 88 — Doris Lessing for literature and Raymond Davis for physics.
Dr Mourou and Dr Strickland separately developed the shortest and most powerful laser pulses ever.
These became the standard for high-intensity lasers, used in a broad range of industrial and medical applications including millions of corrective eye surgeries per year.
Dr Strickland said her first thought on hearing she had won the prize was, “it’s crazy”.
Speaking by phone shortly after the announcement was made in Stockholm, Dr Strickland said: “You do always wonder if it’s real.”
She said she was honoured to be one of the small number of female winners of the physics Nobel so far.
“Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we’re out there,” she said.
Dr Strickland added that “hopefully in time it’ll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe”.
The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace have been awarded since 1901 in accordance with the will of Swedish business tycoon Alfred Nobel, whose discovery of dynamite generated a vast fortune used to fund the prize.
On Monday, American James Allison and Japan’s Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel medicine prize for ground-breaking work in fighting cancer with the body’s own immune system.
The Nobel chemistry prize comes on Wednesday, followed by the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize, which is not technically a Nobel, will be announced on October 8.
However, for the first time in decades no Nobel Prize for literature will be given this year after a scandal over sexual misconduct allegations saw a string of members leave the board of the Swedish Academy that awards it.
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