Canadian Donna Strickland wins the Nobel Prize

Calling herself a "laser jock", she is the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics
donna strickland Professor Donna Strickland will fly to Stockholm, Sweden in November to accept her prize in person. (U of Waterloo)


On Tuesday, Canadian professor Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize in Physics. She is only the third woman to ever win this particular prize and the first in 55 years. In addition, she is the 26th Canadian—and just the second Canadian woman—to become a Nobel laureate (this is the title given to a winner of any of the Nobel Prizes).

Her victory, which was shared with France's Gerard Mourou and the U.S.'s Arthur Ashkin, was for a breakthrough in the field of lasers. Want to hear about what it is? Of course you do!

Laser leader

Strickland calls herself a "laser jock"—it's a term that she came up with because she was tired of scientists being associated with being "geeks".  And there's no doubt that Strickland is a laser champ. Since the 80s, she's been doing groundbreaking work on beams of light—in fact, she and Mourou have been working together since 1982!

And now she and her friend are being recognized for pioneering a kind of "optical tweezers". She has figured out how to use powerful short-beam lasers to grab particles the size of viruses without damaging them. Whoa! Just think about that for a moment. She and her colleagues believe that it could change operations like eye surgery.

Sounds worth a Nobel Prize, doesn't it?

A lifetime of recognition

Embed from Getty Images

Dr. Strickland poses for photos with students at a celebration of her win. (Getty Embed)

Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been given out in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature, and Peace (the Economics prize was added in 1968). For the world's scholars and thinkers, leaders and activists, few awards even come close to them. Yes, you do win money (which for a scientist is no small thing!), but far more important is the recognition that comes with the prize.

Speaking of which, many people have noticed that for a mind as brilliant as Strickland's, she seems a little under-recognized. Despite being on staff at the University of Waterloo since 1997, she still isn't a full professor. And even with decades of important research behind her, Wikipedia only approved an entry for her a few hours after her Nobel Prize win.

For her part, Strickland doesn't sound bitter at all. “I feel like I get paid the same, and I felt like all along I’ve always been paid the same and treated the same,” she said at her news conference. But now that she has the lifetime of recognition that comes with being a Nobel laureate, we can't help but wonder: Will her win help bring more attention to other female scientists like her? We know they're out there!

Listen to Dr. Strickland talk about her surprise at winning and the joy she feels in her work in this interview.


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