(note: this has been adapted from the Nobel Prize committees press release)

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018“for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics” with one half to Arthur Ashkin, Bell Laboratories, Holmdel, USA “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems” and the other half jointly to Gérard Mourou, École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France & University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA and Donna Strickland, University of Waterloo, Canada “for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses”.

Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland paved the way for the numerous ultra-high power laser facilities operating across the world. Their seminal paper ‘Compression of Amplified Chirped Optical Pulses’ [1] was published in 1985 and was the foundation of Donna Strickland’s doctoral thesis.

Using an ingenious approach, they succeeded in creating ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material. First they stretched the laser pulses in time to reduce their peak power, then amplified them, and finally compressed them. If a pulse is compressed in time and becomes shorter, the intensity of the pulse increases dramatically.

Strickland and Mourou’s newly invented technique, called Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA), soon became standard for subsequent high-intensity lasers. Its uses include the millions of corrective eye surgeries that are conducted every year using the sharpest of laser beams; however the innumerable areas of applications have not yet been completely explored.

Over 50 petawatt class lasers worldwide are now either operational, under construction or planned, and all use the CPA technique [2]. The developments within these facilities and the research carried out by them feature in the papers published by High Power Lasers Science and Engineering, co-published by Cambridge University Press and Chinese Laser Press.

[1] Donna Strickland & Gerard Mourou, Optics Comm, Vol. 56, No 3 (1985)

[2] Colin Danson, David Hillier, Nicholas Hopps & David Neely, High Power Lasers Science and Engineering, Vol. 3, e3 (2015)

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