Trio earns physics Nobel for turning lasers into tools

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Science  05 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6410, pp. 12
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6410.12

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If you've had laser eye surgery and chucked your clunky glasses, you can thank some of the winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics. The award, announced 2 October, honors a trio of physicists who invented laser tools that have become ubiquitous in research laboratories and beyond. Among them are the oldest person ever named a Nobel laureate and the first woman to share the physics prize in 55 years. Arthur Ashkin, 96, received half of the $1 million prize for inventing optical tweezers, a technique that uses focused laser beams to hold and manipulate tiny objects, including viruses, bacteria, and individual cells. Ashkin made that advance 1986 while working at the famed Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey. The other half of the prize honors Gérard Mourou, 74, of the École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, and Donna Strickland, 59, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, for their invention of chirped pulse amplification, a technique that boosts the intensity of an ultrashort laser pulse. Developed in 1985 when Strickland was Mourou's graduate student at the University of Rochester in New York, the technique appears in high-power lasers everywhere, including those often used in laser eye surgery to open the cornea. Strickland is the first woman to win the physics Nobel since Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.

  • * With reporting by Daniel Clery.