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Nobel Prize in Physics to three researchers for significant breakthroughs in optical physics

Written by: Dr. Moshe Nachmani and Noam Chai. The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded this year to Arthur Ashkin, Gerard Moreau, and Donna Strickland for significant breakthroughs in optical physics. The prize was awarded to Arthur for the invention of the "optical tweezers" and its uses in biology. For Gerard and Donna, the award was given for creating powerful and fast laser pulses. This is the third win by a woman in physics in the last 120 years 

Laser eye surgery, one of the applications of the discoveries of the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. Photo: shutterstock
Laser eye surgery, one of the applications of the discoveries of the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. Photo: shutterstock

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three researchers dealing in the field of optical tools and their applications: half of the prize was awarded to Arthur Ashkin from the USA for the development of a highly focused laser device that was nicknamed "optical tongs" and which grows especially important applications in the fields of physics, chemistry and even biology; The second half of the prize will be shared between researcher Gerard Moreau from France and researcher Donna Strictland from Canada, for developing a method for receiving extremely powerful light pulses that is used in a variety of applications in the various fields of science.

The discovery that won the Nobel this year changed the face of optical physics. Small objects and fast processes get a new look. The invention enabled many discoveries in chemistry and biology and accelerated research in the field.

Ashkin invented the optical tweezers that enable the transportation of particles, atoms, cells and other tiny bodies using laser beams. Arthur opened a window to the dream of many researchers and brought science fiction to contemporary reality. Using optical pressure it is possible to move small objects from place to place.
Another significant discovery was published in 1987 when Ashkin revealed for the first time a method that made it possible to move bacteria from their place precisely without destroying them. Today the optical tweezers are integrated in almost every biological laboratory.

Gerard Morrow and Donna Stirkland charted the path to powerful lasers in a paper published in 1985, while they were still doctoral students. They were able to show a method to shine fast and powerful laser pulses without destroying the target material. The shorter and faster the pulse in time, the greater the energy it contains. The method they invented, or in its professional name CPA, really saves lives. These days eye surgeons around the world use CPA based devices to operate on millions of people.

We should note that this is the third prize awarded to a woman in physics, and about 50 years have passed since the last prize.

Tools made of light

 

Arthur Ashkin (Arthur Ashkin) invented optical tweezers that make it possible to grasp particles, atoms, viruses and biological cells with the help of "fingers" made of a laser beam. This new tool allowed Ashkin to realize an old dream known from the field of science fiction - the use of radiation pressure of light to move real objects. He was able to make the laser beam move small particles towards the center of the beam and hold them there. At this moment the optical tweezers were invented.

A significant breakthrough in this field occurred in 1987, when Ashkin used forceps to capture live bacteria without damaging them. Immediately after that, he began to examine the use of these optical tweezers in biological systems, and today they are used to study the most basic mechanisms of life.

Gerard Moreau (Gérard Mourou) andDonna Strictland (Donna Strickland) paved the way to create the shortest and most powerful laser pulses man-made. Their groundbreaking article was published in 1985 and formed the basis of researcher Strictland's doctoral thesis.

Using an ingenious approach, the two researchers were able to create extremely short, high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material. In the first stage, they "stretched" the laser pulses in the time dimension in order to reduce their peak intensity, then they increased them, and in the final stage they compressed them. If a laser pulse is compressed in the time dimension and becomes shorter, then a larger amount of light is stored together in the same tiny space - the intensity of the pulse increases significantly.

The innovative method of researchers Morrow and Strictland, called 'chirped pulse amplification' (CPA), soon became the most common method for receiving high-power lasers. Its uses include, among other things, the millions of corrective eye surgeries performed every year using the sharpest laser beams currently available.

Countless areas of application of the discoveries for which the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded this year have not yet been fully explored. However, even now these famous inventions allow us to move around in the smallest micro world, this in light of Alfred Nobel's vision - for the benefit of all humanity.

On the left side - a laser in the nanosecond range that causes the destruction of the sample due to the heating of the area; On the right side - a laser in the femtosecond range that does not destroy the sample due to the heating of the area. [Courtesy Johan Jarnestad, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences]
On the left side - a laser in the nanosecond range that causes the destruction of the sample due to the heating of the area; On the right side - a laser in the femtosecond range that does not destroy the sample due to the heating of the area. [Courtesy Johan Jarnestad, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences]

4 תגובות

  1. There is no way to explain what was done to Yuval Na'im, other than a claim of deprivation. He published first, and he also predicted based on the theory the discovery of a practical finding - a new particle. At the time of the political act of deprivation, the French raised a cry, but it was not heard in Stockholm. In retrospect, the Americans themselves realized the injustice that had been done and awarded Neman the Einstein Prize, as the first non-American to win it. But the deprivation itself, of course - was not fixed.
    And as for Aaronov - even when awards were given for the theoretical achievements, he was skipped... the burden of proof and persuasion rests on the shoulders of those who claim that there is no deprivation here. And it takes hard work to try to lift that burden.

  2. The bias is not against Israelis (there are already Israeli winners) but against theoretical science.
    This year's award is for technological and not scientific achievements.

  3. And to think that Kikir Ahronov (the Ahronov-Boehm effect, the Ahronov-Kosher effect, the geometric phase Ahronov-Annand) did not receive a Nobel Prize and probably will not either...
    And remember that Yuval Na'eman did not receive a Nobel Prize for the theory equivalent to the "Eight Way", which he published before Gal-Man published it...
    My feeling is that Israeli scholars are disadvantaged by the Nobel committees in physics and other subjects. Too bad Nobel was Swedish.

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