CANADIAN WINS NOBEL
Waterloo Prof ‘honoured’
ACanadian scientist who has become only the third woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics said her personal triumph doubles as a sign of progress for her male-dominated industry.
Donna Strickland’s triumph came a day after an Italian scientist was suspended for claiming the discipline was “built by men”.
“We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there and hopefully, in time, it’ll start to move forward at a faster rate,” she said in a phone call to the Nobel press conference. “I’m honoured to be one of those women.”
Strickland, 59, associate professor at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, was awarded the prize on Tuesday along with her doctoral adviser, French physicist Gerard Mourou, and Arthur Ashkin, of the United States, for their pioneering work to turn lasers into powerful tools.
Ashkin, a researcher at Bell Laboratories, New Jersey, invented “optical tweezers” — focused beams of light that can be used to grab particles, atoms and even living cells and are now widely used to study the machinery of life. Mourou, of École Polytechnique, France, and Strickland “paved the way” for the most intense laser beams ever created by humans via a technique that stretches and then amplifies the light beam.
“Billions of people make daily use of optical disk drive, laser printers and optical scanners, millions undergo laser surgery,” said a Nobel committee member. “The laser is truly one of the many examples of how a so-called blue-sky discovery in a fundamental science eventually may transform our daily lives.”
Strickland is the first woman to win the physics prize since 1963, when Maria Goeppert-Mayer was recognized for her work on the structure of nuclei. Marie Curie was the first woman to claim the honour in 1903.
Strickland said reflecting on Goeppert-Mayer’s career showed how far the scientific field had come in terms of gender parity despite the fact that women still make up only a quarter of attendees at major conferences.
Goeppert-Mayer, whose work was cited in Strickland’s own award-winning efforts, went largely unpaid throughout her career.
“It’s true that a woman hasn’t been given the Nobel Prize since then, but I think things are better for women than they have been,” Strickland said. “We should never lose the fact that we are moving forward. We are always marching forward.”
Strickland noted she had not personally experienced fundamental inequality and believed the field was ready to give women a more prominent place.
“I’ve always gotten paid equal to my colleagues and I feel I’ve been treated equally,” she said. “I feel that women should start to get to be recognized more because for some reason not all men want to recognize us or not all people, but I think that’s a minority. I think the majority of people are ready.”
On Monday, Italian scientist Alessandro Strumia was suspended by CERN, the European organization for nuclear research, for saying that “physics was invented and built by men.”
CERN said it was reassessing its relationship with the researcher. In his presentation at a conference in Genoa on Friday, Strumia said male rather than female scientists were suffering from discrimination that was based on ideology rather than merit.
Jim Al–Khalili, president of the British Science Association, said, “It is quite shocking to know that she is only the third woman to win a physics Nobel ever. It is also quite delicious that this comes just a few days after certain controversial and misogynistic comments made at a conference at CERN about women in physics.”
On Tuesday, Strickland received a standing ovation from faculty and students at the University of Waterloo during a news conference where, at one point, she told a young female scientist in the crowd to believe in herself.
“If somebody else thinks something that you don’t believe in, just think they’re wrong and you’re right and keep going,” Strickland said. “That’s pretty much the way I always think.”
Strickland’s words moved Kristi Webb, a physics graduate student, to tears.
“I think she’s a really great role model,” said Webb, noting that Strickland won for work done on her first published research paper. “This was at the very beginning of her career, but she’s done a
I THINK THINGS ARE BETTER FOR WOMEN THAN THEY HAVE BEEN.
million things since then and that’s the dream.”
The University of Waterloo called Strickland’s win a “tremendous day” for the school and the campus was abuzz with the news.
Charmaine Dean, vicepresident of research, said the university would be celebrating Strickland’s win all year, but also emphasized that the prize meant so much more than just an achievement for the professor and the school.
“This gives us a rallying point and a flag to hold high,” Dean said with a broad smile.