Dr. Donna Theo Strickland, of the University of Waterloo, Canada’s First Lady Physics Nobel Laureate, Appointed Companion of The Order of Canada (2019)

Dr Surjit Singh Bhatti, Prof. & Head Physics, Dean Faculty of Sciences (Retired), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar (India)

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded jointly to three, the Canadian Dr Donna Theo Strickland of University of Waterloo, the Frenchman Dr Gérard Mourou, (of École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France), now at the University of Michigan, and Dr Arthur Ashkin of the Bell Research Labs at New Jersey, USA,

“for ground-breaking inventions in the field of laser physics” .

Ashkin got recognition for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems, while Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland were honored for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.

In 1918, Dr. Donna Theo Strickland, of University of Waterloo, became one of the three in history, and the First Canadian lady, to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. The other two before her were the Polish, Marie Curie, who got it in 1903 (and again in 1911) and the German, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who got it in 1963. Dr Donna Strickland  shared half of this prize with her doctoral adviser Dr Gérard Mourou. Dr Arthur Ashkin of Bell Labs at New Jersey, USA, received the other half of the Prize for using lasers to manipulate living cells.   

 Strickland’s Research work on Advanced Lasers

The word LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It was discovered in 1960 at the Hughes Labs, California. These are intense beams of light obtained by a process where atoms or molecules in pre-excited state are stimulated to emit their radiation in phase simultaneously. Before 1985, the maximum power produced had reached close to the Giga-Watt/cm2, (1GW = 10 W), range.   

Strickland and Mourou developed a setup to raise the peak power of laser pulses to overcome its major limitation at that time. When intensity of pulses reaches Gigawatts/cm2,  self-focusing of pulses damages amplification. Their 1985 technique, called Chirped Laser Amplification, stretched out each pulse spectrally and in time before amplifying. It then compressed each pulse back to its original duration, generating ultra-short pulses of  1 to 1000 Trillion (1012) W/cm2 intensity. Their path-breaking work was published in 1985 and led to the high-intensity ultra-short pulses of laser beams that can make accurate cuts. They are used now in micro-machining and in corrective eye surgeries.

Donna Strickland was born in 1959 at Guelph. She  studied for BEng at McMaster University and later obtained MS and PhD from  the University of Rochester. After earning her PhD, she came back to Ottawa to work with Dr. Paul Corkum at the National Research Council (NRC).  She later held positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Princeton University before coming to the University of Waterloo, where she is an Associate Professor since 1990 and is working on advanced ultrafast lasers.

Strickland Appointed Companion to Order of Canada (2019)

Dr Donna Theo Strickland has been appointed  Companion of the Order of Canada in 2019, considered one of the country’s highest civilian honors.

Marie Curie, was a physicist from Poland who became the first woman to win this prestigious prize. Along with her husband Pierre, she got this award in 1903, for their joint study of the new spontaneous radiations discovered by Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of this  Prize. In 1911, she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in recognition of her work in radioactivity. She discovered the two new elements Polonium and Radium. Irene Joliot-Curie, her daughter, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, making the two the only mother-daughter pair to have won Nobel Prizes.


Maria Goeppert Mayer was a German-born Americantheoretical physicist and became a Nobel Laureate in Physics for proposing the Nuclear Shell Model of the atomic nucleus. She was the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. She shared it with two other  physicists, the German Hans Jensen, and the Hungarian-American Eugene Wigner.  

Women Nobel Laureates in Sciences

Between 1901 and  2019, Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 866 men and  54 women ( just about 6% of the total). Of these, 12 women have won the Prize in Physiology or Medicine, five have won in Chemistry and only three in Physics.

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