The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday decided to award the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics to Arthur Ashkin (US) as well as jointly to Gerard Mourou (US) and Donna Strickland (Canada). The award was granted for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics. With the Nobel, Donna Strickland became the third female recipient of the prize in physics. The winners of the Nobel Prize will be awarded $1 million or £770,000 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

After winning the award, Donna Strickland said, “We need to celebrate women physicists because they’re out there… I’m honoured to be one of those women.” Strickland became the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963) and Marie Curie (1903).

Arthur Ashkin was awarded the prestigious prize for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems. Ashkin always had a dream: Imagine if beams of light could be put to work and made to move objects. He realised his dream by creating a light trap, which became known as optical tweezers.

Ashkin’s optical tweezers grab particles, atoms and molecules with their laser beam fingers. They can examine and manipulate viruses, bacteria and other living cells without damaging them. New opportunities for observing and controlling the machinery of life have been created.

Science fiction has become a reality. Optical tweezers make it possible to observe, turn, cut, push and pull with light. In many laboratories, laser tweezers are used to study biological processes, such as proteins, molecular motors, DNA or the inner life of cells.

Elsewhere, Nobel Laureates Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland received the award for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. They paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by humankind. The technique they developed opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications.

Mourou and Strickland’s technique is known as chirped pulse amplification, CPA. Take a short laser pulse, stretch it in time, amplify it and squeeze it together again.

Ultra-sharp laser beams make it possible to cut or drill holes in various materials extremely precisely – even in living matter. Millions of eye operations are performed every year with the sharpest of laser beams.

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