‘People are ready’ to recognize female scientists, says Nobel laureate Donna Strickland

The 59-year-old Guelph, Ont., native made the discovery of Chirped Pulse Amplification

A Canadian scientist who became only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics said her personal triumph doubles as a sign of progress for her male-dominated industry.

Donna Strickland, associate professor at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, was honoured on Tuesday for being half of the team to discover Chirped Pulse Amplification, a technique that underpins today’s short-pulse, high-intensity lasers.

The 59-year-old Guelph, Ont., native made the discovery while completing her PhD at the University of Rochester in New York and will share half of the US$1.01-million prize with her doctoral adviser, French physicist Gerard Mourou. Arthur Ashkin of the United States was the third winner of the 2018 physics prize.

Strickland’s victory not only cemented her own place in Nobel history, but ended a 55-year-long drought for female physicists being recognized by the prize committee. She joins the ranks of Marie Curie, the first woman to claim the honour in 1903, and 1963 winner Maria Goeppert-Mayer.

Strickland said reflecting on Goeppert-Mayer’s career shows how far the scientific field has come in terms of gender parity despite the fact that women still make up only a quarter of attendees at major conferences.

Goeppert-Mayer, whose work was cited in Strickland’s own award-winning efforts, went largely unpaid throughout her career.

READ MORE: Canadian female physicist wins Nobel Prize

“It’s true that a woman hasn’t been given the Nobel Prize since then, but I think things are better for women than they have been,” Strickland told the Canadian Press in an interview. ”We should never lose the fact that we are moving forward. We are always marching forward.”

Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences, which chose the winners, described Strickland and Mourou’s work as “revolutionary.”

The Chirped Pulse Amplification Technique, first laid out in a 1985 article, was described by the academy as “generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses,” which have become a critical part of corrective eye surgeries amongst other uses.

Strickland said she and Mourou were well aware that they were onto something in 1982 when they began researching ways to allow lasers to perform high-intensity, ultra-short pulses that would not damage the equipment.

When the pair refined the technique, Strickland recalled Mourou’s advice to talk up their accomplishment and tell their peers that the gigawatt laser they had developed would lay the groundwork for devices a million times more powerful down the road.

“I knew he was right, it just seemed very bombastic for me to say it in front of the experts of the world,” she said. “I found that hard.”

Mourou’s prediction came to pass a mere decade later, she said, adding Chirped Pulse Amplification now has broad applications.

A 2011 profile on the University of Waterloo website says Strickland described herself as a “laser jock” who enjoyed the competitive rush, and was working on creating the shortest laser pulse with the biggest punch.

Mourou had been Strickland’s PhD supervisor and said he was thrilled at the win.

“I am very, very happy to share this distinction with my former student Donna Strickland and also to share it with Art Ashkin, for whom I have a lot of respect,” he said in a video released by France’s École Polytechnique, where he is professor.

“With the technology we have developed, laser power has been increased about a million times, maybe even a billion.”

Ashkin, of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, developed “optical tweezers” that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them.

The University of Waterloo said Strickland’s win was a “tremendous day” for the school.

“This is Waterloo’s first Nobel laureate and the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 55 years,” the university’s president and vice-chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, said in a statement.

The university’s campus was abuzz with the news Tuesday morning.

Charmaine Dean, vice-president of research, said the university will be celebrating Strickland’s win all year, but also emphasized that the prize means so much more than just an achievement for the professor and the school.

“This gives us a rallying point and a flag to hold high,” Dean said with a broad smile. “This gives a beacon for further conversations about women in science and technology.”

Strickland said she recognizes that her new status as a Nobel winner may boost her status as a role model for young women wishing to pursue a career in science, adding those with such dreams should go out and pursue them.

Despite a pervasive lack of official recognition for women scientists, Strickland said she has not personally experienced fundamental inequality and believes the field is ready to give women a more prominent place.

“I’ve always gotten paid equal to my colleagues and I feel I’ve been treated equally,” she said. “I feel that women should start to get to be recognized more because for some reason not all men want to recognize us or not all people, but I think that’s a minority. I think the majority of people are ready.”

With files from Michelle McQuigge and The Associated Press

Liam Casey , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Solution being found after Kelowna housing society misplaces washer and dryer unit

Shannon McDonald wanted to pay it forward with a gift, but there was a communication error

Central Okanagan superintendent outlines priorities for 2019-2020 school year

Infrastructe and program development were main themes in presentation

Lake Country man charged for killing his wife expected to enter plea

Lambertus “Bert” Westervelt was charged with second-degree murder of his wife in April

Breakfast with the candidates: Central Okanagan candidates to meet for early morning panel

The event will feature a round of ‘speed dating’ followed by a one-hour panel

Rockets take lessons from weekend’s loss, look for bounce back against Swift Current

Kelowna hosts the Broncos Wednesday night at Prospera Place

VIDEO: #MeToo leader launches new hashtag to mobilize U.S. voters

Tarana Burke hopes to prompt moderators to ask about sexual violence at next debate

Okanagan ski hills highlighted on website’s ‘most affordable’ list

HomeToGo looks at rentals, lift passes, accommodations and food to compile list of Top 50

UPDATE: British couple vacationing in Vancouver detained in U.S. after crossing border

CBP claims individuals were denied travel authorization, crossing was deliberate

After losing two baby boys, B.C. parents hope to cut through the taboo of infant death

Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in B.C.

Cheating husband sues mistress for gifted ring after wife learns about affair

The husband gave his mistress $1,000 to buy herself a ring in December 2017

VIDEO: Meet your Kelowna-Lake Country candidates

All seven Kelowna-Lake Country candidates answer questions about themselves and their policy

VIDEO: Meet your Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola candidates

Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola candidates answer questions about themselves and their policy

B.C. boosts legal aid funding in new payment contract

‘Duty counsel’ service restored in some communities, David Eby says

Okanagan man killed in head-on collision on Highway 1 near Salmon Arm

Police say 21-year-old died at scene after pickup truck collided with transport trailer

Most Read