Nobel Prize Laureate presents pioneering work on high-intensity, ultrashort optical pulses

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 8:18pm

Dr. Donna Strickland, Nobel Laureate (Physics 2018) speaks about generating high-intensity, ultrashort optical pulses in Rackham Auditorium Wednesday.

Dr. Donna Strickland, Nobel Laureate (Physics 2018) speaks about generating high-intensity, ultrashort optical pulses in Rackham Auditorium Wednesday. Buy this photo
Rita Vega/Daily

Dr. Donna Strickland, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo, presented a lecture to approximately 200 people at Rackham Auditorium Thursday on the research that won her the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018. She was the third woman to win the award.

In 1903, the Nobel committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Dr. Marie Curie, which she shared with her husband Pierre Curie and French engineer Henri Becquerel, for their work on radioactivity. Sixty years later, Dr. Maria Goeppert Mayer received the same award for defining the nuclear shell model. Last year, Strickland won the prize for her invention of chirped pulse amplification, which she shared with her dissertation adviser, Dr. Gerard Mourou. 

A native of Ontario, Canada, Strickland received a degree in engineering physics from McMaster University and her doctorate in optics from the University of Rochester, during which time she and her adviser developed chirped pulse amplification. Building on the work of Albert Einstein, and Goeppert Mayer, the invention allows for short-pulse lasers to be fed into large-energy lasers, a process that, before CPA, led to very costly damage to the laser.

Through Strickland’s and Mourou’s work, scientists were able to take a low-energy short pulse and stretch it to a longer pulse. This was followed by an amplifier that increases the energy and then a compressor which maintains the high energy but returns the pulse to a shorter length. Their work was developed in order to better understand the relationship between photons and atoms.

In her lecture, Strickland joked about the relationship.

“Photons have personalities and atoms do not,” Strickland said.

LSA senior Zhiquan Sun, who is planning on going to graduate school, told The Daily she found inspiration in Strickland’s research.

“This definitely shows the level of important research you could do even as a graduate student,” Sun said.

Michael Wentzel, an LSA senior studying physics, told The Daily he was amazed by the path Strickland took to obtain the coveted Nobel Prize.

“I thought it was really inspirational to see somebody who did this work as a graduate student 35 some years ago, and then waiting for thirty odd years and then finally getting the recognition that they deserved,” Wentzel said.

Strickland also reflected on her experience attending the ceremonies in Stockholm, which included leading the procession with the King of Sweden and signing the book containing prior Nobel laureates’ signatures. When it was her turn to sign, she said the book was opened to the page signed by none other than Dr. Marie Curie.

“I signed the same book as these legends,” Strickland said, referring to Curie and Goeppert Mayer.

Mourou, Strickland’s adviser at the University of Rochester and co-laureate also attended the lecture. Morou provided insight as to other functions CPA can perform. 

“We are trying to produce particles for medical applications,” Mourou said. “Also for trying to make the energy cleaner.”

He told The Daily he feels a sense of pride in being a Nobel Prize winner and also sharing that honor with a former student.

“It’s one thing to get the Nobel prize,” Mourou said. “It’s another thing to have been the mentor of a student. It is remarkable.”