Three scientists can now call themselves Nobel Prize winners after being awarded the prestigious honor for their highly influential work in physics. Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou, and Donna Strickland have finally been recognized for their efforts after decades of study in laser technology. The breakthroughs made have changed the course of scientific study as we know it.
Arthur Ashkin: The “optical tweezers”
This American physicist completed years of work with high-powered laser beams. He theorized that he could potentially move tiny particles with an extremely focused center beam. When tested, Ashkin realized that the concentration of the laser caused the particles to gather around and freeze to the center of the beam.
The ability to “grab” the particles and move them with the direction of the beam mimicked a pair of “optical tweezers” and gained the nickname because of it.
Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou
Scientists Donna Strickland of Canada and Gérard Mourou of France began their work in the 1980s. Both realized that research was limited with laser beam amplification. The technology that assisted in amplifying the beams kept failing due to the sheer power of the intensified laser. In order to bypass this, the two had an ingenious idea.
With the help of a fiber optic cable, the scientists stretched out the laser beam, causing the strength to weaken. In this weakened state, the laser was then amplified. Then, the beam was re-compressed to create a “pulse.” They published this method in 1985, and other scientists quickly followed suit.
Female acknowledgment and impacts on history
A Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to only three women in history. In fact, Strickland is the first woman in 55 years to win this honor. Celebrating women in science is extremely important, as their contributions are equally as notable as their male comrades and much less recognized.
Without Ashkin’s creation of the optical tweezers, biologists would struggle to dissect and move tiny bacteria or virus particles. Without the discovery of pulse technology, we wouldn’t have things like laser eye surgery. Both studies changed the course of laser technology that we are all familiar with today.