Two Former LLE Researchers win Nobel Prize in Physics

October 2018


Profs. Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou were awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics "for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics" for their invention of chirped-pulse amplification (CPA) while at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics in the 1980s. Prof. Strickland developed CPA as a graduate student with Prof. Mourou as her advisor in The Institute of Optics. Strickland is only the third woman to receive the prize in physics, joining Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963). "We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there," Strickland said. "I am honored to be one of those women." Professor of Optics and former Institute of Optics Director, Wayne Knox said of Gérard Mourou, he is "one of the most visionary and creative people I’ve met in my whole life. He was always thinking about the next power of 10. If his laser was making 1018 watts per square centimeter, he wanted to build one that was a thousand times bigger." Together, their invention revolutionized laser science, enabling amplification of ultrashort laser pulses by more than five orders of magnitude (see diagram above).

"The development of chirped-pulse amplification by Gérard and Donna has created numerous new applications in science and industry and has catalyzed research around the world in high-peak-power lasers," said Laboratory Director, Michael Campbell. "The research that led to the Nobel was conducted at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics and highlights the quality and innovation that has long characterized the University's contributions to optics and laser science. All of us extend our sincere congratulations to Gérard and Donna for their pioneering and impactful research."

To this day, CPA remains the state-of-the-art technique for generating the highest-power lasers in the world. CPA enables cost-effective, high-power lasers that are used ubiquitously in universities and industries around the world. CPA produces laser intensities that accelerate relativistic particle beams for scientific, medical, and industrial applications. Ultrahigh intensity lasers based on CPA generate new high-energy photon sources, including x rays and gamma rays, that can probe dense matter and even nuclear structures. CPA is the foundation for producing laser pulses that probe atomic and solid-state dynamics, opening new fields like femtochemistry. Industry has adapted CPA for a range of laser materials processing techniques, including machining of brittle materials like the cover glass used in smart phones.

Richard Feldman, interim president designate, also lauded the accomplishment: "The University of Rochester community is immensely proud to hear that the Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to our alumna Donna Strickland and her professor and graduate advisor, Gerard Mourou, for research conducted at the University's Laboratory for Laser Energetics during her graduate studies here,” he said. "We are honored to count them among the Nobel Laureates connected to the University of Rochester and send them sincere congratulations on this recognition and on their career achievements in physics."