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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Laser innovations scoop Nobel Prize in Physics

American, Canadian and French scientists win award for work on high-intensity lasers

 French scientist Gerard Mourou, centre, was one of three winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. The other recipients, not pictured, were American Arthur Ashkin, and Canadian Donna Strickland AP
 French scientist Gerard Mourou, centre, was one of three winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. The other recipients, not pictured, were American Arthur Ashkin, and Canadian Donna Strickland AP

Scientists Arthur Ashkin, Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics "for ground-breaking inventions in the field of laser physics".

American Dr Ashkin took half the prize for his work on developing "optical tweezers", a revolutionary technology which allows microscopic organisms to be manipulated with lasers.

The 96-year-old is the oldest winner of a Nobel prize, beating Leonid Hurwicz, who was 90 when he took home the Economics Prize in 2007.

Canadian Dr Strickland and French scientist Dr Mourou shared the other half for developing high intensity optical pulses called "chirped pulse amplification", which is now used in corrective eye surgery.

The award is worth nine million Swedish kronor ($1 million, Dh3.7 million).

Dr Strickland is the first woman to win the physics prize for 55 years. There have only ever been two other female winners, Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963.

Reacting to the announcement the new laureate, who is based at the University of Waterloo, Canada, said: "Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists because we are out there and hopefully in time it will start to move forward at a faster rate."

Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics, said "It is also a personal delight to see Dr.Strickland break the 55-year hiatus since a woman has been awarded a Nobel Prize in physics, making this year's award all the more historic."

Dr Strickland is also the first female laureate in any field for three years.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday that the lack of female researchers winning prizes was due to barriers being put up for women in the field 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.

The winners of the chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday before the peace prize on Friday.

The Swedish Academy has postponed handing out the award for literature after an internal dispute sparked by a #MeToo scandal involving the husband of one its members.

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