Two Nobels down and three to go


The oldest ever winner has shared the Physics prize with the first female winner in 55 years. Nick Carne reports.


Donna Strickland, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for physics in 55 years.

Donna Strickland, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for physics in 55 years.

University of Waterloo

The first two Nobel Prizes for 2018 have been awarded, with a couple of firsts and an ironic twist.

The 96-year-old American Arthur Ashkin became the oldest ever winner on Tuesday, October 2, when he shared the Nobel Prize in physics with Canadian Donna Strickland and Frenchman Gerard Mourou.

Strickland’s success was even more significant. She is only the third woman to win the physics prize, the first in 55 years – and the only one still alive. She follows in the footsteps of Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963).

The twist comes in the fact for Strickland, before becoming a Nobel laureate, Wikipedia had rejected a page detailing her achievements, because she hadn’t been considered famous enough.

Nor had she been given the title of full professor by her institution, Canada’s University of Waterloo.

And, at the time of writing, it still hadn’t.

Ashkin, a former employee of Bell Laboratories is in the US, was awarded half the prize for the development of optical tweezers that can grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells without harming them.

Mourou, of École Polytechnique near Paris, and Strickland shared the other half for paving the way “towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created by mankind”.

Their technique, known as chirped pulse amplification (CPA), became the standard for high-intensity lasers and is used in millions of corrective eye surgeries every year.

“The inventions being honoured this year have revolutionised laser physics,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said on awarding the prize.

“Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications.”

On Monday, October 1, the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to James Allison and Tasuku Honjo “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”

Allison, from the MD Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Texas in the US, and Honjo, from Kyoto University in Japan, found new ways to use the body’s immune system to attack cancer, leading to a new class of drugs that help patients who, in many cases, have run out of options.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry will be announced on October 3 at 11.45 am local time in Sweden and the Nobel Peace Prize at 11 am on Friday in Norway.

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel will be announced at 11.45 am next Monday.

The awarding of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature has been postponed until next year, following a sexual-harassment allegation.

The question of who was the oldest winner before to Ashkin depends on how you choose to interpret the rules.

Leonid Hurwicz was 90 when he won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in 2007, but this is the only one of the current prizes not created by Alfred Nobel in his will. If that is used as the criteria, the oldest before Ashkin were 88-year-old Raymond Davis Jr (Physics, 2002) and Doris Lessing (Literature, 2007).

Explore #Nobel Prize
  1. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2018/press-release/
  2. https://qz.com/1410909/wikipedia-had-rejected-nobel-prize-winner-donna-strickland-because-she-wasnt-famous-enough/
  3. https://uwaterloo.ca/physics-astronomy/people-profiles/donna-strickland
  4. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2018/press-release/
  5. https://www.svenskaakademien.se/en/press/the-swedish-academy-postpones-the-2018-nobel-prize-in-literature
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