Three researchers -- Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Mourou, Donna Strickland -- on Tuesday shared the Nobel Physics Prize “for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics” that have paved the way for advanced precision instruments used in industry and medicine, the jury said.
Ashkin of the United States won one half of the nine million Swedish kronor (about Rs. 7.40 crore) prize, while Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada shared the other half.Ashkin, 96, was honoured for his invention of 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.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.Mourou and Strickland 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 amplication, CPA. Speaking by phone to the academy, a moved Strickland said she was thrilled to receive the Nobel prize that has been the least accessible for women."We need to celebrate women physicists because they're out there... I'm honoured to be one of those women." Before her, only Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer had won the physics prize, in 1903 and 1963 respectively.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has in the past lamented the small number of women laureates in the science fields in general.It has insisted that it is not due to male chauvinism bias on the award committees, instead attributing it to the fact that laboratory doors were closed to women for so long.
"It's a small percentage for sure, that's why we are taking measures to encourage more nominations because we don't want to miss anyone," the head of the Academy, Goran Hansson, said on Tuesday.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.
(With AFP inputs)