2018 Nobel Prize for physics goes to tools made from light beams

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018-1

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for their “innovative inventions in the field of laser physics”. In this way, Strickland becomes the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in the history of these awards, after Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963) and Marie Curie (1903). But what exactly are the discoveries that have led them to share such an important award?

One half of the award was given to the American Ashkin for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.” The committee explained that the scientist “had a dream: imagine if the rays of light could get to work and move objects.” He realized his dream by creating a light trap, known as an optical clamp.

Therefore, the jury considered that science fiction is a reality. With this mechanism, it became possible to observe, rotate, push or pull an element with the use of light. In addition, they pointed out that “laser clamps” are used to study biological processes, such as proteins, molecular motors, DNA or the inner life of cells.

They can examine and manipulate viruses, bacteria and other living cells without damaging them, and new opportunities for observation and control of the vital machinery have been created,” they said.

On the other hand, the French Mourou and the Canadian Strickland were recognized for their “method of generating high intensity and ultrashort optical pulses” with a technique that opens new areas of research and applications in the medical and industrial field.

The technique developed by these scientists, known as chirped pulse amplication, involves manipulating “a short laser pulse, stretching it at the same time, amplifying it and squeezing it together again,” the committee summarized.

The work of Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland goes back to 1985 when they published a revolutionary article in which they explained their method to create ultra-short laser pulses (as short as one femtosecond, one billionth of a second) of high intensity with a focus ingenious, without destroying the amplifier material.

First, they stretched the laser pulses in time to reduce their maximum power, then they amplified them and finally compressed them. If a pulse is compressed in time and becomes shorter, then more light is packed in the same small space, so the intensity of the pulse increases drastically.

These very short pulses make it possible to observe events that happen between molecules and atoms so quickly that before they seemed to be instantaneous and only the before and the after could be described.

The extremely high intensity of a laser also makes its light a tool for changing the properties of matter: electrical insulators can be converted into conductors, and ultra-thin laser beams make it possible to drill holes in various materials extremely accurately, including in living matter. Including, for example, the millions of corrective eye surgeries that are performed annually.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded yesterday to scientists James Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their revolutionary discovery that led to a new way of fighting cancer: immunotherapy. However, what is this technique about and why is it so promising? Immunotherapy is a treatment against some types of cancer (and is in trials for others) that uses our own immune system to fight the disease.

The technique helps our defenses recognize and attack cancer cells. As we know, our immune system works to protect the body against infections and diseases, one of them, cancer. To do this, he makes use of the lymph nodes, the spleen and the white blood cells. Normall, it can detect and destroy defective cells in the body, which stops the development of cancer.

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