A trio of American, French and Canadian scientists won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics on Tuesday for breakthroughs in laser technology that have turned light beams into precision tools for everything from eye surgery to micro-machining.
They include the first female physics prize winner in 55 years.
Canada’s Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo, becomes only the third woman to win a Nobel for physics, after Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963.
Arthur Ashkin of Bell Laboratories in the U.S. won half of the 2018 prize for inventing “optical tweezers” while Strickland shares the remainder with Frenchman Gerard Mourou, who also has U.S. citizenship, for work on high-intensity lasers.
“Obviously, we need to celebrate women physicists because we are out there and hopefully in time it will start to move forward at a faster rate,” Strickland told a news conference, shortly after learning of the prize.
The Nobel prizes have long been dominated by male scientists and none more so than physics.
Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate in any field in three years.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in 2017 it would seek to more actively encourage nominations of women researchers to begin addressing the imbalance.
Her win came a day after Europe’s physics research centre CERN suspended an Italian scientist, Alessandro Strumia, for telling a seminar at the organisation’s Swiss headquarters recently that physics was “invented and built by men”.
Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of theoretical physics at Britain’s University of Surrey, said on Twitter it was “delicious” that Strickland had won the Nobel prize just days after Strumia’s “misogynistic” comments.
The inventions by the three scientists date back to the mid-1980s and over the years they have revolutionised laser physics.