American, French and Canadian scientists win Nobel Prize for work on laser physics
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Scientists Arthur Ashkin of the US, Gérard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada have won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics for breakthroughs in the field of lasers, the award-giving body said on Tuesday.
"The inventions being honoured this year have revolutionised laser physics," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on awarding the nine million Swedish crown (€870,000, $1 million) prize.
"Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications," it said in a statement.
The academy said Ashkin had won one half of the prize, while Mourou and Strickland shared the other half.
This year’s #NobelPrize inventions revolutionised laser physics. Extremely small objects and incredibly fast processes now appear in a new light. Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications. pic.twitter.com/RZp78piSRFThe Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 2, 2018
The oldest-ever Nobel laureate at 96, Ashkin was honoured for his invention of "optical tweezers" that grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with their laser beam fingers.
With this he was able to use the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects, "an old dream of science fiction," the academy said.
A major breakthrough came in 1987 when Ashkin used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them.
Meanwhile Mourou, 74, and Strickland – only the third woman to win the Physics Prize – won for helping develop a method to generate ultra-short optical pulses, "the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by mankind," the jury said.
Their technique is now used in corrective eye surgery.
Mourou was affiliated with the École Polytechnique of France and the University of Michigan in the US, while Strickland, his student, is a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
Women are 'out there'
Speaking by phone to the academy, a moved Strickland said she was thrilled to receive the Nobel prize that has been the least accessible for women.
"We need to celebrate women physicists because they're out there... I'm honoured to be one of those women," she said.
Before her, only Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer had won the physics prize, in 1903 and 1963 respectively.
“We need to celebrate women physicists because they’re out there… I’m honoured to be one of those women," says Donna Strickland.The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 2, 2018
She becomes the third woman to receive the #NobelPrize in Physics, joining Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963) and Marie Curie (1903). Congratulations! pic.twitter.com/m2XLJHTW0V
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has in the past lamented the small number of women laureates in the science fields in general.
It has insisted that it is not due to male chauvinism bias on the award committees, instead attributing it to the fact that laboratory doors were closed to women for so long.
"It's a small percentage for sure, that's why we are taking measures to encourage more nominations because we don't want to miss anyone," the head of the Academy, Goran Hansson, said on Tuesday.
On Monday, two immunologists, James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won this year's Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body's natural defences can fight cancer.
The winners of the chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, followed by the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 8.
For the first time since 1949, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize until next year, amid a #MeToo scandal and bitter internal dispute that has prevented it from functioning properly.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)