2 former University of Rochester scientists share the Nobel Prize in Physics

3 scientists win Nobel Prize in physics for laser inventions

Arthur Ashkin, 96 - the oldest ever Nobel prize victor - of Bell Laboratories in the United States won half of the prize for inventing "optical tweezers" while Frenchman Gerard Mourou, who also has U.S. citizenship, and Canada's Donna Strickland shared the other half for work on high-intensity lasers.

A Canadian scientist who became only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics said her personal triumph doubles as a sign of progress for her male-dominated industry.

The 59-year-old Guelph, Ont., native made the discovery while completing her PhD at the University of Rochester in NY and will share half of the US$1.01-million prize with her doctoral adviser, French physicist Gerard Mourou. Frenchman Gérard Mourou of the École Polytechnique and University of MI shares half of the prize's $1 million with Strickland; Ashkin gets the other half. "Obviously we need to celebrate woman physicists because we're out there".

Commenting on her achievements, she emphasized how she "tries to think outside of the box". The award was granted for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics. Extremely small objects and incredibly rapid processes are now being seen in a new light.

The Swedish academy says Ashkin, a researcher at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, developed "optical tweezers" that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them. In 1987, he used a laser to seize and hold bacteria without harming them. He immediately began studying biological systems and optical tweezers are now widely used to investigate the machinery of life.

Mourou and Strickland "paved the way" for the most intense laser beams ever created by humans via a technique that stretches and then amplifies the light beam. Their revolutionary article was published in 1985 and was the foundation of Strickland's doctoral thesis.

At the time, she said, many research groups were thinking about how to increase the power of laser pulses, but she and Dr. Mourou had a different idea.

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Strickland and Mourou will share the other half, after they were singled out for helping develop laser pulses that can be applied to a broad range of industrial and medical devices.

The statement said there are still innumerable areas of application that have not yet been completely explored.

Two winners also made history for other reasons. "We should never lose the fact that we are moving forward".

While women are generally underrepresented in fields like science and technology, the disparities in physics seem to be particularly pronounced, said Rachel Ivie, director of the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics.

The Nobel Prize in Physics will be officially presented at ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10.

"This just reinforces how important it is to have these type of institutions in the scientific infrastructure of the country; it's going to help us continue to recruit first quality students and employees and it shows, I think the impact of the research that's done at the university", he told WXXI News.

The oldest winners of the prizes established by the will were 88 - Doris Lessing for literature and Raymond Davis for physics.

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