Donna Strickland has won the Nobel Prize in Physics. She is the first woman in 55 years and the third woman ever to win the prize in this field. Marie Curie was the first woman to win the Physics Nobel in 1903. Maria Goeppert-Mayer earned the prize in 1963. Fifty-nine-year-old Strickland shares this year’s prize with Arthur Ashkin, from the US, and Gerard Mourou, from France.

The three earned their respective awards yesterday “for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics”.

Who is Donna Strickland?

Dr Strickland was born on May 27, 1959, in Guelph, Ontario in Canada. She pursued her first degree in the field of physics in 1981, graduating from McMaster University. She studied optics at the University of Rochester, New York state. Meanwhile, she worked towards her PhD under Dr Mourou.

Strickland has been teaching at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, since 1997. She oversees an ultra-fast laser lab and works with a team of undergraduate and graduate students.

Calls herself a “laser jock”

  • The professor called herself a “laser jock” once in an interview. She emphasised on efforts to make young people more involved in the realm of physics.
  • She received the Ontario Premier’s Research Excellence Award in 1999. Cottrell Scholars’, a research corporation, awarded her the Cottrell Scholars’ Award in 2000. It recognises scholars for their research and academic leadership.
  • The Optical Society of America named her a fellow in 2008 for her pioneering work in the field of ultrafast laser and optical science. Dr Strickland loves research and enjoys the competitive rush of pushing the boundaries of what lasers can do.

Speaking with BBC, she said the win was surprising as it had been a long time since a woman had won the award.

What is the work that has won her a Nobel?

  • Her field of research is about “who has the shortest pulse, the most energy, the highest average power”. She spoke about it at the University of Waterloo in 2011. Interestingly, scientists Strickland and Mourou paved the way for the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created.
  • They have developed a technique called Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA). It has found uses in laser therapy targeting cancer and in the millions of corrective laser eye surgeries which are performed each year.
  • With this, more light is packed into a small space when a laser pulse is compressed in time and becomes shorter. This considerably increases the intensity of the pulse. Strickland and Mourou’s CPA technique became the standard for high intensity lasers.
  • Dr Ashkin, who shared the award, has developed a laser technique, described as optical tweezers. It works on studying biological systems.
  • The award is worth a nine million Swedish kronor (£770,686; $998,618).

Congratulations from the higher order

Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, congratulated Dr Strickland, issuing an official statement. Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, too, took to Twitter to announce the same.

The award comes a few days after a physicist, Professor Alessandro Strumia, claimed at a lecture that physics had been “built by men”. In the lecture at the Cern laboratory in Geneva, he added that everyone discriminated against male scientists. Following his comments, the research centre has suspended him for his offensive remarks.

The last woman to win this prize, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, earned it for her discoveries about the nuclei of atoms. Last year, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish won the Physics Nobel for the detection of gravitational waves. 

Also Read: Nobel Prize Winners: What’s the count of women laureates?

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