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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

Michigan’s Gérard Mourou wins the Nobel Prize for Physics


University of Michigan Professor and Frenchman Gerard Mourou won a Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for work with lasers.

The award is shared with two others, Donna Strickland, a Canadian physicist, and Arthur Ashkin of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

Mourou and Strickland helped develop short and intense laser pulses that have broad industrial and medical applications, including laser eye surgery. The academy said their 1985 article on the technique was “revolutionary.”

Mourou is a Moore Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at University of Michigan’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department.

The University of Michigan is one of the top 50 universities with the most Nobel Prizes.

The three will share the the prize’s 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) award.

Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences, which chose the winners, said Ashkin’s development of “optical tweezers” that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them realized “an old dream of science fiction — using the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects.”

The tweezers are “extremely important for measuring small forces on individual molecules, small objects, and this has been very interesting in biology, to understand how things like muscle tissue work, what are the molecule motors behind the muscle tissue,” said David Haviland of the academy’s Nobel committee.

Strickland’s award is the first to have gone to a woman in physics since 1963, when it was won by Maria Goeppert-Mayer; the only other one went to Marie Curie in 1903.

“Obviously 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, maybe,” Strickland said in a phone call with the academy after the prize announcement.

Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics, praised all the laureates and said “It is also a personal delight to see Dr. Strickland break the 55-year hiatus since a woman has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, making this year’s award all the more historic.”

He credited the work of all three with “expanding what is possible at the extremes of time, space and forms of matter.”