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Very rubin observatory, Credit: Rubin Obs/NSF/AURA

Perimeter congratulates 2018 Nobel laureate Donna Strickland of University of Waterloo

For her pioneering work in lasers, University of Waterloo professor Donna Strickland becomes the third woman in history to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

When informed by a reporter that she was only the third woman in history to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, Donna Strickland responded incredulously: “Really?”

Strickland, who helped pioneer lasers that create extremely fast pulses of light for a variety of applications, joins Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer as the only women to have received science’s most prestigious prize. 

In her first public comments after she was told that she was a co-winner of the 2018 Nobel, alongside French physicist Gérard Mourou and American physicist Arthur Ashkin, Strickland said: “I’m honoured to be one of those women. 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.”

Strickland is a self-described “laser jock” who leads the Ultrafast Laser Group at the University of Waterloo. In 1985, she helped develop chirped pulse amplification — a method of modifying laser light to boost its speed and power, leading to innovations in surgery and many other applications in applied and theoretical science. 

portrait of 2018 Nobel Laureate Donna Strickland
Dr. Donna Strickland, 2018 Nobel Laureate

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded half of the $1.4 million prize jointly to Strickland and Morneau, and the other half to Ashkin.

Art McDonald, who shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering neutrino research at SNOLAB, said it is a “pleasure to congratulate Professor Donna Strickland for her groundbreaking work” in laser physics. 

“This is a strong confirmation of the quality of science being performed by Canadians and I hope it will be an inspiration to many young women to become involved in STEM areas,” said McDonald, a past member of Perimeter Institute’s Board of Directors. 

Perimeter Founder and Board Chair Mike Lazaridis called the announcement of Strickland’s Nobel “a big day for physics in Canada.

“This is obviously a proud day for me as an alumnus of UW and we should all be proud of our work supporting physics in Canada,” said Lazaridis. “We use Dr. Strickland’s discovery in so many of our experiments today in the Quantum Valley, not to mention laser surgery, eye surgery, cancer treatment, as well as all areas of industrial design, manufacturing and production, and countless other precision uses. What wonderful recognition and a very much-deserved award for Dr. Strickland.”

Perimeter Director Neil Turok said the entire Perimeter community is “absolutely thrilled” by the news of Strickland’s Nobel honour. 

“Donna Strickland was first author on a landmark paper in 1985 – her first as a PhD student – pioneering fast, intense pulses of laser light,” said Turok. “The technique has become incredibly important today for both research and industry. Her win strengthens Waterloo’s intent to serve as a physics epicentre for Canada and the world: a place for discoveries and breakthroughs, where young people are encouraged to shoot for the stars.”

Niayesh Afshordi, an Associate Faculty member at Perimeter Institute and a colleague and friend of Strickland’s at the University of Waterloo, said he was immensely proud. “She was clearly a trailblazer in the visionary technology of ultrafast lasers, which was duly recognized by the Nobel Prize committee,” he said. “She is also a fantastic colleague and academic who contributed greatly to the success of physics and astronomy in Waterloo.”

About PI

Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement. 

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