Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Arthur Ashkin, Donna Strickland, and Gerard Mourou awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for lasers

And it's been getting a lot of buzz because in addition to Ashkin not being the oldest Nobel Laureate, Donna Strickland is just the third woman and the first in 55 years to win the Physics Prize. What's interesting is that they won the award for two completely different things. Arthur Ashkin creating something called "optical tweezers", while Strickland and Mourou's award is for "their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses." according to the Nobel Prize's press release. Scientific American also has an article about it.

I'll be honest, I have like zero clues about what that means because while I love science, I'm still a plebe when it comes to understanding a lot of it, which is why I'm trying to educate myself on the subject. Fortunately, the official Nobel Twitter posted a handy-dandy graphic explaining Ashkin's accomplishment and it's pretty neat-o.

Interestingly, this article in Quanta Magazine says that work based on Ashkin's discovery led to other physicists winning the Nobel Prize in 1997 and 2001.

There's no helpful graph for Mourou and Strickland's achievement, but Quanta Magazine gives a rundown on what they did:
Mourou, most recently of the École Polytechnique in France, and Strickland, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, developed a way to create extremely short, intense laser pulses. Now called chirped pulse amplification, the method is used in corrective eye surgeries and has become the standard in physics laboratories around the world.

Strickland was a Ph.D. student working with Mourou at the University of Rochester when they discovered the trick for amplifying laser pulses in 1985. That trick was to first stretch out a short pulse of laser light using an “optical grating,” so that the high-frequency component of the pulse lags behind the low-frequency component. This stretched-out, “chirped” pulse could then be amplified without damaging the laser. The pulse was then passed through a second grating to recompress it. “Different people were trying to get short pulses amplified in different ways,” Strickland explained. “It was thinking outside the box to stretch first and then amplify.”
Their discovery has a wide range of applications from biology to materials science to medicine, so they should be quite pleased with themselves. All three of them.

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