Nobel-winning laser discoveries that lit up the field

October 2, 2018

Three scientists shared the 2018 Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday for their work that has "revolutionised" the field of laser physics.

Here is a brief explanation of their breakthroughs and how the discoveries can be applied:

Optical tweezers

American physicist Arthur Ashkin was given one half of the prestigious award for inventing ""—intense beams that can grab microscopic particles and move them about for study.

They use light to move physical objects, "an old dream of science fiction," according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The beams use light's natural radiation pressure, allowing scientists to examine and manipulate viruses, bacteria and other living cells—even individual atoms—without damaging them.

The Nobel prize committee said the innovation, which Ashkin developed in the 1970s and 1980s, had created "new opportunities for observing and controlling the machinery of life".

Optical pulses

The other half of Tuesday's prize pot was split between Frenchman Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland of Canada, for their joint development of ultra-short optical pulses.

When early lasers were being developed in the 1960s, scientists encountered the problem of how to scale up the beams without also boosting their to potentially dangerous levels.

Mourou and Strickland developed a technique, known as chirped-pulse amplification (CPA), which enabled researchers to boost laser power but keeping the intensity safe by having incredibly short light bursts.

CPA first stretches laser pulses over time to reduce their intensity, before amplifying them and compressing them again.

The compressed pulses saw more light packed into a shorter time, increasing the intensity of the .

It enables beams to cut or drill holes in various materials, including living matter, with extreme precision.

Today the technique is used in millions of laser eye surgeries across the world and is being applied to research in several fields, including cancer care.

Explore further: Laser pioneers win Nobel Physics Prize

Related Stories

Laser pioneers win Nobel Physics Prize

October 2, 2018

Three scientists on Tuesday won the Nobel Physics Prize, including the first woman to receive the prestigious award in 55 years, for inventing optical lasers that have paved the way for advanced precision instruments used ...

Detecting the shape of laser pulses

May 17, 2018

A team of researchers at the Center for Relativistic Laser Science, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) have developed a method to measure the shape of laser pulses in ambient air. Unlike conventional strategies, ...

Recommended for you

Compelling evidence for small drops of perfect fluid

December 10, 2018

Nuclear physicists analyzing data from the PHENIX detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility for nuclear physics research at Brookhaven National ...

Supercomputers without waste heat

December 10, 2018

Generally speaking, magnetism and the lossless flow of electrical current ("superconductivity") are competing phenomena that cannot coexist in the same sample. However, for building supercomputers, synergetically combining ...

Engineers invent groundbreaking spin-based memory device

December 7, 2018

A team of international researchers led by engineers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have invented a new magnetic device to manipulate digital information 20 times more efficiently and with 10 times more stability ...

Multichannel vectorial holographic display and encryption

December 7, 2018

Holography is a powerful tool that can reconstruct wavefronts of light and combine the fundamental wave properties of amplitude, phase, polarization, wave vector and frequency. Smart multiplexing techniques (multiple signal ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 02, 2018
I am resisting the temptation to do Dr. Evil air quotes on this "laser" article.
Congratulations are in order for some very valuable work.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.