Press release

Laser Tweezers and Intense, Ultrashort Laser Pulses Win 2018 Nobel in Physics

October 02, 2018

Half the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Arthur Ashkin for optical tweezers, and half shared between Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for technology to create high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses

The Physics Nobel prize for 2018 recognized two important areas of applied laser physics: optical tweezers that use light to grab and manipulate small particles, and intense, pulsed lasers that are most widely known as tools for corrective eye surgery, among a host of other medical and industrial applications.

Arthur Ashkin (formerly at Bell Laboratories) received half the prize for his groundbreaking development of optical tweezers and applications for using them to manipulate biological samples. Gérard Mourou (École Polytechnique, France, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States) and Donna Strickland (University of Waterloo, Canada) share half the prize for developing technology to produce high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. In contrast to Physics Nobel Prizes that often tend to recognize science that can seem obscure to non-physicists, this year’s Physics Nobel honors researchers who have created technologies with many, real-world applications in research, technology and medicine.

“There have been several Nobel Prizes associated with the development and application of lasers,” said 2018 American Physical Society (APS) President Roger Falcone, a laser physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. “This year it is wonderful to see recognition of Art Ashkin’s seminal work in using lasers to manipulate the motion of small particles, as well as Gérard Mourou’s and Donna Strickland’s impactful invention of a technique that enables the highest peak power lasers. The recognition of Strickland’s critical contributions as a graduate student is noteworthy and inspiring.”

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Mourou is the recipient of the APS’ 2018 Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science. Ashkin was elected a Fellow of the APS in 1966 and received the APS’ 2003 Joseph F. Keithley Award for Advances in Measurement Science.

“I was thrilled this morning see this recognition for three individuals who started research fields that have shaped the current world of laser physics,” said APS Vice President Philip Bucksbaum. “Art Ashkin's beautiful experiments at Bell Labs inspired his fellow physicists to pursue laser cooling and optical traps, which in turn has led to degenerate quantum gas physics, laser tweezers for biophysics and much more. Almost at the same time, Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou solved a key problem in laser science that quickly opened the door for both attosecond science and high powered lasers. It's all the more inspiring to recall how these innovations came from colleagues within our own physics community, tinkering with new tools and thinking about what we might learn from them.”

Several of Ashkin’s seminal optical tweezer publications appeared in the APS journal Physical Review Letters (PRL). Journal editors have designated two of Ashkin’s papers as “PRL Milestone” publications for their long-lived contributions to physics.

Acceleration and Trapping of Particles by Radiation Pressure
A. Ashkin
Phys. Rev. Lett. 24, 156 – Published 26 January 1970
[PRL Milestone]

Trapping of Atoms by Resonance Radiation Pressure
A. Ashkin
Phys. Rev. Lett. 40, 729 – Published 20 March 1978

Experimental Observation of Optically Trapped Atoms
Steven Chu, J. E. Bjorkholm, A. Ashkin, and A. Cable
Phys. Rev. Lett. 57, 314 – Published 21 July 1986

Three-dimensional viscous confinement and cooling of atoms by resonance radiation pressure
Steven Chu, L. Hollberg, J. E. Bjorkholm, Alex Cable, and A. Ashkin
Phys. Rev. Lett. 55, 48 (1985) - Published 1 July 1985
[PRL Milestone]


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