Tools made of light

prototype-nobel-laser-bacteriaThe 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to inventors working with lasers.

One half of the prize was awarded to Arthur Ashkin of Bell Laboratories for his development of optical tweezers that can “grip” and move tiny biological material such as viruses and bacteria.

The second half of the prize was awarded jointly to Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou for lasers that deliver high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses useful to cut extremely precise holes in material, especially living tissue.

“Chirped pulse amplification” or “CPA” is the name for ultrashort high-intensity laser beam technology that has been used to perform millions of eye surgeries. In eye surgery, a nanosecond is too long. The intense heat of a laser damages tissue, so Strickland and Mourou invented laser beams that pulse in femtoseconds. That’s 1,000,000,000,000 laser pulses in one second. Recent developments have created lasers that pulse in attoseconds (lots of zeroes) to observe and control individual electrons.

Donna Strickland was just the third woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics since the award began in 1901, an honour that has not gone unnoticed in the #MeToo era. Female Frances Arnold also won in chemistry this year, just days after Jean-Claude Arnault was convicted of rape and financial misconduct in a scandal that has tarnished the Nobel Committee’s reputation.

Read more: Nobel Prize in Physics / New Scientist / BBC

Image: Nobel Prize press release

This story is taken from the 5 October 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.