This Inspiring Woman Just Won the Noble Prize in Physics

Dr. Donna Strickland is only the third woman to receive the prestigious prize in 117 years.

Oct 9, 2018

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This year, the Nobel Physics Prize, awarded for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics, made for a welcome surprise. Since 1901, when the Physics prize was established, it has been an almost exclusively male-only club.

In the prize’s 117-years history, only two extraordinary women were awarded for their contribution to science. Last week, they were joined by Dr. Donna Strickland, an associate professor of Physics at the University of Waterloo who won the prize for her work on high-intensity laser pulses.

Strickland who describes herself as a "laser jock" was really surprised when she heard that she won the prize. She originally thought it was a prank. After all, the work for which she received the prize was published 30 years ago. In an interview with Nobelprize.org, Strickland said that she never worked as hard or had as much fun as when she was doing the laser research.

Strickland shares the award with physicist Dr. Gerard Mourou, with whom she published a scientific research paper in 1985 on ultra-short optical pulses called chirped pulse amplification (CPA), and Dr. Arthur Ashkin, who created optical tweezers and their application to biological systems building on the pioneering research work of Strickland and Mourou.

Their work "paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by mankind," the Nobel Prize press release announcing the award said. CPA became the standard for high-intensity lasers and its use includes Lasik corrective eye surgeries.

Strickland is quick to pay homage to her female predecessors and has said that her work depended, in part, on the work of Marie Curie, the first woman to win the prize for the discovery of radioactivity and Maria Goeppert Mayer who won in 1963 for developing the predictive model of the properties of atomic nuclei.

This year, the Nobel prize in chemistry was also awarded to a woman, Dr. Frances H. Arnold. She is the fifth woman to be awarded the chemistry prize. Today, only 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women, but with new initiatives to encourage girls to go into the sciences these numbers continue to grow.

To celebrate UNESCO has declared February 11 to be the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The EarthWatch Institute is encouraging girls to go into science by providing fully-funded research opportunities for talented girls who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to be mentored by women scientists.

Girl's STEM clubs are being formed in middle and high schools to encourage girls to broaden their horizons and have science careers. These girls will build upon the foundations laid by these pioneering women who excelled in their male-dominated fields and were awarded Nobel Prizes in the Sciences.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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