Three laser scientists win Nobel Prize for Physics


STOCKHOLM/LONDON • A trio of American, French and Canadian scientists have won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics for breakthroughs in laser technology that have turned light beams into precision tools for everything from eye surgery to micro-machining.

They include the first female physics prize winner in 55 years.

Dr Arthur Ashkin of Bell Laboratories in the United States won half of the prize for inventing "optical tweezers" while Frenchman Gerard Mourou, who also has US citizenship, and Canadian Donna Strickland shared the other half for their work on high-intensity lasers.

Dr Strickland, of the University of Waterloo, Canada, becomes only the third woman to win a Nobel for physics, after Dr Marie Curie in 1903 and Dr Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963.

"Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists because we are out there and hopefully in time it will start to move forward at a faster rate," she told a news conference by telephone, shortly after learning of the prize she won.

The Nobel prizes have long been dominated by male scientists, and none more so than physics. Dr Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate in any field in three years.

The inventions by the three laser scientists date back to the mid-1980s and over the years they have revolutionised laser physics.

"Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications," the academy said yesterday on awarding the nine million Swedish crown (S$1.37 million) prize.

Dr Ashkin's work was based on the realisation that the pressure of a beam of light could push microscopic objects and trap them in position. A breakthrough came in 1987 when he used the new optical tweezers to grab living bacteria without harming them. Dr Ashkin, 96, is the oldest ever prize winner.


Dr Mourou and Dr Strickland's research centred on developing the most intense laser pulses ever created by humans, paving the way for the precision instruments used today in corrective eye surgery and industrial applications.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2018, with the headline 'Three laser scientists win Nobel Prize for Physics'. Subscribe