Donna Strickland Awarded Nobel Prize for Laser Physics

The national news last week had a story on the fact that a woman, Donna Strickland won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for the first time in 55 years. Quite an honor.

picture of Donna Strickland in Her Lab

Donna Strickland in Her Lab at Waterloo Univ.

What was of even more interest to me was that it was for her work in laser physics. It turns out the 2017 prize was also for work in the area of laser physics. Lasers are going to be more important to society in general than GPS. They may be already. I think lidar will also surpass GPS/GNSS in everyday importance.

Donna Strickland is an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo in Toronto, Canada. She shares this year prize with two others. Strickland’s was for an innovative method to generate high-intensity, ultra-short laser pulses which she shares with Gérard Mourou of the École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, in France. The other research involved the development of optical tweezers which resulted  from Arthur Ashkin’s research published in 1970.

The 2017 award was for the detection of gravitational waves — using an instrument called a laser interferometer. What differentiates these three lasers from one another, and what makes them different from the laser pointer you use to play with your cat, has to do with the laser’s frequency, continuity and coherence.

LIGO, which stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory. The goal of the massive project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, was to confirm Einstein’s theory that gravity travels across space-time in the form of gravitational waves.

Donna Strickland actually completed the winning research that she completed in 1985 as a 26-year-old graduate student. “It’s kind of mind boggling, isn’t it?” Strickland says. “It’s not like I was thinking, ‘Oh, somebody should give me a Nobel Prize.’ It’s sort of surreal.”

In the category of “What Were You Thinking” – Donna Strickland’s achievement comes a day after an Italian physicist was suspended from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, for saying that physics was “invented and built by men.” Brilliant!!! I don’t think he has to worry about winning a Nobel prize.

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