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Water Today Title December 12, 2019

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2019/1/14
Nobel Prize and Women


AN INTERVIEW WITH DONNA STRICKLAND, CANADIAN WINNER OF THE 2018 NOBEL PRIZE FOR PHYSICS

On October 2, 2018, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that Strickland, 59, a Guelph native who joined the University of Waterloo in 1997, and Mourou, 74, who is now at the École Polytechnique in his native France, shared one half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in creating "tools made of light."
Strickland and Mourou published their pioneering work "Compression of amplified chirped optical pulses" in 1985, while Strickland was still a doctoral student under Mourou. Their invention of chirped pulse amplification for lasers at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Rochester, led to the development of the field of high-intensity ultrashort pulses of light beams. Because the ultrabrief and ultrasharp light beams are capable of making extremely precise cuts, the technique is used in laser micromachining, laser surgery, medicine, fundamental science studies, and other applications.
Strickland is only the third woman in history to win a Nobel prize in physics, and the first in more than fifty years. The first was Marie Curie who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 (and then a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911). The second was Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963. Strickland's achievement was built upon the fundamental work of Goeppert Mayer who developed the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms. Work that was done by Goeppert Mayer in kicking off the field of multi-photon ionization in the 1930s was cited in Strickland's doctoral thesis.
WaterToday sent email questions to Strickland. Our questions and her answers are below.

WaterToday - First a fun question. Being a Trek fan, do you see the possibilities of a tractor beam in human's immediate future?

Strickland -I'm going to go with no.

WaterToday -Given you won the prize for this, can you explain to us laser luddites out here why you stretched a laser pulse and then compressed it? And how does one go about compressing this in time? All seems Doctor Who-ish a bit.

Strickland -It was Gérard Mourou, my doctoral supervisor at the time, who realized that this was the way to drastically increase the intensity of the light. Stretching the laser reduces its power level so that when you amplify it, you don't damage the laser amplifier in the process. Then when you compress the beam, you have a short pulse of light that is high in power.

WaterToday -Chirped Pulsed Amplification sounds really complicated. When I talked to an eye surgeon for this article, he was saying that in fact, its one of the most important things to happen to eye medicine since people realized optics was a thing. can you, in layman's terms, explain this to our viewers?

Strickland - Chirped Pulse Amplification, also known as CPA, enable the most intense laser pulses. They only do damage where you apply the laser, and the cut is really precise without any messy, ragged edges. So CPA is great for cutting transparent materials, such as small glass parts or the cornea of the human eye. I wish to make it clear, though, that CPA isn't what improves your vision in laser eye surgery. But it does let surgeons slice the cornea cleanly so that they can pull it back and then get to work on fixing your eyesight.

WaterToday - One of the more interesting thing about you winning this prize is that you're only the third women to have achieved this. Would you explain to our viewers why you think this might be?

Strickland - Well I'm just so honoured to be in the company of Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer. In my PhD thesis, I actually referred to Maria Goeppert Mayer's work. Marie Curie really stands alone in my mind, though, because she is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different scientific categories. Well, there weren't as many women as men in scientific fields for a very long time. We still have a way to go to improve the number of women in these areas, but things are slowly getting closer to being even. I also think that women haven't been recognized for the excellent work they did for a very long time. In fact, Maria Goeppert Mayer wasn't even paid for much of scientific career. That was before she won the Nobel Prize, 55 years before I did. But I am pleased that we are now going in the right direction and I am sure it won't be another five decades before another women wins.

Donna Strickland: The 'laser jock' Nobel prize winner - BBC


WaterToday -The award ceremony was really neat, what went through your mind at that time? I'm trying to get a sense of how it feels.

Strickland - It was such an amazing experience. I was just trying to be present so that I could remember it for a long time. There was a rehearsal ahead of time so that we knew how to take the award from the king of Sweden and when we're supposed to bow and to whom. So, I was also trying to keep that all straight in my head.

WaterToday - I read a quote that was said to be yours, that you're a "laser geek" when did you decide this was what you wanted to solve? Or can you give us how you came to be doing this exact research? Lasers were cool (we agree) or perhaps you were waving around your helium neon pointer and knew this was it?

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Strickland - The first time I saw a laser was during a trip to the Ontario Science Centre. My parents were both really interested in science and we all went as a family. I remember when I was looking for a university to attend, I saw that McMaster University offered a degree in engineering physics, which included the study of lasers. I knew that was for me.

WaterToday - Finally, you can't do one of these interviews without saying what's next for lasers . How about I rephrase the question and ask what's next for you in this field? People are asking when your going to repeat?

Strickland - Well, it's amazing what receiving a Nobel Prize can do to your schedule. I've received so many requests to speak at conferences around the world. I'll be doing that for the next couple of years. I am also still teaching a lasers course at the University of Waterloo.


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