Donna Strickland emulates Marie Curie as she won the Nobel Prize for Physics

2018 Nobel Prize for Physics is unique in many senses. Donna Strickland became the 3rd women ever to win the award. Arthur Ashkin — who, at 96, becomes the oldest scientist ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

Arthur Ashkin is credited with having invented what is famously known as “optical tweezers”. Actually a technology rather than a physical instrument, these “tweezers” are widely used for isolating and examining very small particles, such as individual atoms, DNA strands, or biological cells.

Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland, who share the other half of the Prize, developed a technique that has made it possible to generate most intense laser pulses that are now used in a wide variety of scientific and medical applications, including in eye surgeries.

Strickland, a 59-year-old Canadian scientist, has now become only the third woman to have received the Nobel Prize in Physics, after Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963. And the main breakthrough of her work, in collaboration with her PhD supervisor Mourou, was described in the very first scientific paper she published, back in December 1985. 

Strickland is the University of Waterloo’s first Nobel laureate. She has been teaching at the university since 1997 and oversees an ultra-fast laser lab. Despite all the reputation, she is just an Associate Professor. 

Strickland herself seemed to quell any insinuation of sexism in a BBC interview today, saying that she’d “always been treated like an equal [to male scientists] in her career.” When when asked directly why someone with her achievements and esteemed reputation wasn’t holding a full professorship, she answered simply, “I never applied!”

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