American, Frenchman, Canadian win Nobel for work with lasers

Last year US astrophysicists Barry Barish Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the physics prize for the discovery of gravitational waves

Last year US astrophysicists Barry Barish Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the physics prize for the discovery of gravitational waves

They are Arthur Ashkin, a researcher at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, Gerard Mourou, a professor emeritus both at Ecole Polytechnique in France and the University of MI, and Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences, which chose the winners, said Ashkin, 96, developed "optical tweezers" that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them. The first was Marie Curie in 1903.

Then, in 1987, he used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them. When Göran Hansson, who announced the prize and is the secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, reached him by phone and asked if he could speak to reporters, Ashkin said he was too busy with his latest paper.

The last woman to win the physics prize, German-born American physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer, took the prize for her discoveries about the nuclei of atoms.

The awarding of the prize to Strickland, a Canadian scientist at the University of Waterloo, has ended a drought for women winning any of the prestigious prizes.

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. Although Ashkin retired from Bell Labs in 1992, he is active in his home laboratory.

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Mourou had been her PhD supervisor. The technique relies on first stretching out short, energetic laser pulses in time, reducing their peak power and allowing them to be safely fed through an amplifier, after which they are finally compressed back to their original size-dramatically boosting their intensity.

Their technique is now used in corrective eye surgery. She was given the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1911.

"It is also a personal delight to see Dr Strickland break the 55-year hiatus since a woman has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, making this year's award all the more historic". "I am very, very happy to share this distinction with my former student Donna Strickland and also to share it with Art Ashkin, for whom I have a lot of respect".

"It was great to have had the opportunity to work with one of the pioneers of ultrafast lasers, Gerard Mourou", said Strickland.

But they did not affect this year's prize: "It's important to remember that the Nobel Prize is awarded for discoveries and inventions, and those who receive it have made major contributions to humankind, and that's why they get the prize".

The Nobel prizes have always been dominated by male scientists, and none more so than physics.

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