Arthur Ashkin, 2 others win Nobel Physics Prize for laser research
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Arthur Ashkin, 2 others win Nobel Physics Prize for laser research

96-year-old Jewish American who revolutionized eye surgery is oldest Nobel laureate ever

Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland, 2018’s Nobel laureates in physics. (Courtesy: Nobel Assembly)
Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland, 2018’s Nobel laureates in physics. (Courtesy: Nobel Assembly)

Three researchers on Tuesday shared the 2018 Nobel Physics Prize for inventions in the field of laser physics that have paved the way for advanced precision instruments used in corrective eye surgery and industry, the jury said.

Arthur Ashkin of the United States won one half of the nine million Swedish kronor (about $1.01 million or 870,000 euro) prize, while Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada shared the other half.

Ashkin, 96, was honored for his invention of “optical tweezers” that grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with their laser beam fingers.

With this he was able to use the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects, “an old dream of science fiction,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Arthur Ashkin (YouTube)

Ashkin, who is Jewish, is the oldest person ever named as a laureate for any of the prestigious Nobel awards.

Meanwhile Mourou, 74, and Strickland — only the third woman to win the Physics Prize — won for together developing a method to generate ultra-short optical pulses, “the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by mankind,” the jury said.

Their technique is now used in corrective eye surgery.

Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate to be named in three years and is only the third woman to have won the physics prize; the first was Marie Curie in 1903.

“Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we’re out there. And hopefully in time it’ll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe,” Strickland said in a phone call with the academy after the prize announcement.

A screen displays portraits of Arthur Ashkin of the United States, Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada during the announcement of the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on October 2, 2018 in Stockholm. (Hanna FRANZEN / AFP)

Last year, US astrophysicists Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the physics prize for the discovery of gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity.

On Monday, two immunologists, James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan, won this year’s Nobel Medicine Prize for research into how the body’s natural defences can fight cancer.

The winners of the chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, followed by the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 8.

For the first time since 1949, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize until next year, amid a #MeToo scandal and bitter internal dispute that has prevented it from functioning properly.

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