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Donna Strickland Wins Nobel Prize in Physics

Stockholm, Sweden —(Map)

On Tuesday, scientist Donna Strickland learned she was one of the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. Only three women have won the prize in 117 years.

Front side (obverse) of one of the Nobel Prize medals in Physiology or Medicine awarded in 1950 to researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
The Nobel Prize was created by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
He used his money to give prizes to people who had done important work.
There are Nobel Prizes in many areas, including physics and chemistry.
(Source: Jonathunder, Wikipedia.)

The prize was created by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. He didn’t want to be remembered for making things blow up, so he used his money to give prizes to people who had done important work. The first prize was given in 1901. There are Nobel Prizes in several areas, including physics and chemistry.

In physics, scientists study energy and matter (the stuff that the universe is made of), and how matter and energy are connected to space and time. You could say that physics tries to understand the way the universe works.

Donna Strickland, a graduate student in optics and a member of the Picosecond Research Group, is shown aligning an optical fiber. The fiber is used to frequency chirp and stretch an optical pulse that can later be amplified and compressed in order to achieve high-peak-power pulses.
Donna Strickland shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics with two men.
This picture is from 1985, when Dr. Strickland worked with Dr. Gérard Mourou.
Together, they created a way to make lasers more powerful and easier to build.
(Source: Carlos Stroud /University of Rochester, via Wikimedia Commons.)

This year, Canadian Donna Strickland shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with two men – Gérard Mourou and Arthur Ashkin. The prize was given to all of them for work they did with lasers.

Dr. Strickland worked with Dr. Mourou in 1985 to create a way to make lasers more powerful and easier to build. This invention has led to many of the ways we use lasers now. One of the best known results of her work is Lasik eye surgery. This laser operation has helped many people see well without glasses, and would not have been possible without Dr. Strickland’s work.

Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence Ryder's eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery.
Dr. Strickland’s invention has led to many new uses of lasers.
One of the best known results of her work is Lasik eye surgery.
The operation has helped many people see well without glasses.
It would not have been possible without Dr. Strickland’s work.
(Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Dr. Strickland’s Nobel Prize comes at a time when many people are asking why female scientists don’t get more attention. The last time a woman won the Nobel Prize for physics was 55 years ago.

The work of female scientists often seems to be overlooked. When Dr. Strickland won the award, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia did not even have a page about her. But they had pages about Dr. Mourou and Dr. Ashkin. Just 17% of the biographies on Wikipedia are about women.

Donna Strickland at The Optical Society 2012 holiday party.
The work of female scientists often seems to be overlooked.
When Dr. Strickland won the award, Wikipedia didn’t even have a page about her.
(Source: ©The Optical Society, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The big question is whether women scientists are being treated unfairly simply because they are women. In the past, it was much harder for women to go to school and become scientists, so there weren’t many female scientists. Many people used to say that women could not do math or science. That has been proved wrong over and over again.

But many people have a hard time letting go of these ideas. Last week, a male scientist upset many people with a talk he gave at the famous CERN lab in Switzerland. He said, “physics was invented and built by men.” CERN has said that the scientist will not be allowed to work there for a while because of his comments.

Dr. Strickland prefers to focus on the progress that’s been made. “We should never lose the fact that we are moving forward,” she said. “We are always marching forward.”

She has a point. The leader of the CERN lab is now a woman. And when the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Wednesday morning, a female scientist, Frances Arnold, became the fifth woman to win the prize.

Photo of Prof. Frances H. Arnold, May 2012
Frances Arnold won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
She is just the fifth woman to win this prize.
(Source: Beavercheme2, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Stockholm, Sweden


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