Physics Nobel honors discoveries that advanced eye surgery, virus manipulation

Physics Nobel honors discoveries that advanced eye surgery, virus manipulation

Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland have been awarded the 2018 Nobel prize in physics for their work in creating "tools made of light".

The Nobel committee says Mourou and Strickland will receive a quarter of the prize each for their work "generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses", which have become a critical part of corrective eye surgeries amongst other uses.

Polish-born physicist Marie Curie shared the 1903 award with her husband Pierre Curie and Antoine Henri Becquerel for their research into radioactivity. A breakthrough came in 1987 when he used the new optical tweezers to grab living bacteria without harming them. "Obviously we need to celebrate woman physicists because we're out there". With the Nobel, Donna Strickland became the third female recipient of the prize in physics.

Achievements by Strickland, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, and Morou, of the École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France, led to the creation of the world's shortest and most intense laser pulses.

Arthur Ashkin is an American scientist who worked at Bell Laboratories and Lucent Technologies.

Simplified illustration of the laser technology developed by Strickland and Morou
Simplified illustration of the laser technology developed by Strickland and Morou

Strickland is the third female physics laureate to win the prize, and the first since Maria Goeppert-Mayer who won 55 years ago for her discoveries about the nuclei of atoms. "I thought there might have been more..." Millions of eye operations are performed every year with the sharpest of laser beams.

Ashkin, who in 1987 had used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them, is the oldest victor of a Nobel prize, beating American Leonid Hurwicz, who was 90 when he won the 2007 Economics Prize.

With CPA, Mourou and Strickland shattered this wall, sparking a trend that allowed lasers to, on average, double in intensity twice per decade. Take a short laser pulse, stretch it in time, amplify it and squeeze it together again.

"Ultra-sharp laser beams make it possible to cut or drill holes in various materials extremely precisely - even in living matter", the Nobel Prize twitter account noted.

Last year, United States astrophysicists Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the physics prize for the discovery of gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity. One morning, after he had left them overnight, the samples contained large particles that moved "hither and thither", as the Nobel committee charmingly put it.

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