Sci-tech

Oldest Nobel Prize victor: 'I was always afraid I wasn't smart enough'

Oldest Nobel Prize victor: 'I was always afraid I wasn't smart enough'

And, for the first time in more than half a century, a woman - Donna Strickland - is one of the winners.

The Swedish academy said their discoveries made possible "tools made of light" that improve scientific research, industry and medicine. The short and intense laser pulses that have broad industrial and medical applications.

Atlas Obscura, an online database of "the world's most wondrous places and foods" was the first to point out on Tuesday - the same day that Strickland was named a victor - that Goeppert-Mayer was referred to in news coverage as a "San Diego Mother". Among this year's top contenders were scientists who worked on a technology which showcased the development of solar cells based on a class of mineral called perovskites, devices whose performance is on par with that of silicon solar cells, and which are less costly and energy-intensive to produce.

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Their article, published in 1985, formed the basis of Strickland's doctoral thesis at the University of Rochester.

At the time, scientists had been trying to figure out how to amplify high-energy laser pulses without destroying the amplifiers.

Their discoveries led to very precise, powerful lasers that can cut holes in different materials, including living tissue. Millions of these operations have been performed on people around the world. Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo in Canada is the first woman to have won a Nobel in three years and is only the third to have won for physics. The first was Marie Curie of France in 1903.

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That women in physics have been a big topic of conversation in the last week and surrounding her achievement didn't go unnoticed by Strickland. However, even now these celebrated inventions allow us to rummage around in the microworld in the best spirit of Alfred Nobel - for the greatest benefit to humankind. Speaking by phone to the Academy, a moved Strickland said she was thrilled to receive the Nobel prize that has been the least accessible for women.

Mourou said, "I am very, very happy to share this distinction with my former student Donna Strickland and also to share it with Art Ashkin, for whom I have a lot of respect". His groundbreaking research involved inventing "optical tweezers".

There were also lighter moments at Strickland's news conference, including when university president Feridun Hamdullahpur was asked whether Strickland's win was enough to vault her to the position of a full professor - he said there was a process for all to follow.

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A major breakthrough came in 1987, when Ashkin used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them.

Ashkin, who is the oldest Nobel laureate ever at 96, spent little time with the media this morning.

Last year, U.S. astrophysicists Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the physics prize for the discovery of gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity. Eva Lindroth, member of the Class for Physics at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua in an interview after the announcement.

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