Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo in Ontariois the first woman to have won a Nobel in three years and is only the third to have won for physics. Frenchman Gérard Mourou of the École Polytechnique and University of Michigan shares half of the prize’s $1 million with Strickland; Ashkin gets the other half.
Strickland’s award is the first to have gone to a woman in physics since 1963, when it was won by Maria Goeppert-Mayer; Marie Curie was the only other one, in 1903.
Strickland and Mourou helped develop short and intense laser pulses that can be used medically, including laser eye surgery.
“Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we’re out there. And hopefully, in time, it’ll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe,” Strickland said in a phone call with the academy after the prize announcement.
Michael Moloney, head of the American Institute of Physics, praised all the laureates and 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.”
On Monday, American James Allison and Japan’s Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel in medicine for groundbreaking work in fighting cancer with the body’s own immune system. The Nobel for chemistry comes Wednesday, followed by the peace prize Friday.