2018 Physics Nobel Prize Resources

AIP congratulates Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland on their receipt of the Nobel Prize in physics "for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics." Ashkin receives one-half of the prize "for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems" and Mourou and Strickland share one-half "for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses."

This page will be populated with the information and resources about the 2018 Prizes and the newly named laureates.

Key publications from the AIP Publishing, Physics Today and AIP Member Societies:

Optical Levitation by Radiation Pressure,  Appl. Phys. Lett., 1971, by A. Ashkin, and J. M. Dziedzic
Ultrahigh‐Intensity Lasers: Physics of the Extreme on a Tabletop, Physics Today, 1998, by Gérard A. Mourou, Christopher P. J. Barry, and Michael D. Perry

Acceleration and Trapping of Particles by Radiation Pressure​, Phys. Rev. Lett., 1970, by A. Ashkin
Trapping of Atoms by Resonance Radiation Pressure​, Phys. Rev. Lett., 1978, by A. Ashkin
Experimental Observation of Optically Trapped Atom​, Phys. Rev. Lett., 1986, by Steven Chu, J. E. Bjorkholm, A. Ashkin, and A. Cable


Quote from AIP and AIP Publishing Leadership

Statement from Michael Moloney, AIP’s CEO

"AIP is delighted to congratulate Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in physics. Their work creating laser-based tools has transformed approaches to research enabled by the now-ubiquitous laser -- expanding what is possible at the extremes of time, space, and forms of matter. The countless applications made possible by their work, like laser eye surgery, high-power petawatt lasers, and the ability to trap and study individual viruses and bacteria, only promise to increase going forward. 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."

Statement from Jason Wilde, AIP Publishing’s CPO

"Today we celebrate the Nobel Prize committee's recognition of Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for their inventions in the field of laser physics. AIP Publishing is thrilled to have published articles by all three Nobel Laureates, and has made a selection of articles that showcase the history of their discoveries freely available to the public.”



Light may not have mass, but its massive abilities were the highlights of this year’s Nobel Prize in physics. The prize was divided between two laser-based tools that brought our observational reach to new extremes -- one in space and the other in time and intensity.

Feeling the pressure

The remarkably weak force that light exerts on its surroundings, more commonly called radiation pressure, was impossible to reliably measure for centuries. That was until lasers provided concentrated, coherent sources of light that could provide enough controllable force not only to measure, but also to utilize optical pressure to manipulate microscopic objects.

By carefully balancing scattering forces from a beam’s opposing rays as it focuses through a lens, Arthur Ashkin demonstrated the extraordinary ability to trap particles in water, some as large as tens of micrometers in diameter. Ashkin then demonstrated how these aptly dubbed optical tweezers could trap and manipulate individual viruses and subcellular components within living cells.

Studies building on these approaches have revealed some of the most precise understandings of bacterial locomotion and mechanical dynamics. More fundamentally focused applications have used optical tweezers in a variety of ways to trap individual atoms and molecules.

Getting intense

Soon after the first lasers were developed, pulsed lasers burst onto the scene and offered new and unique time and energy scales to laser measurements. While standard lasers emit steady beams of light with a constant power, pulsed lasers emit (often extremely) short -- and therefore high-intensity -- bursts of coherent light. Unlike their steady, constant wavelength (“CW”) counterparts, each pulse emitted from these lasers contains a range of overlapping wavelengths to produce pulses that today can be as short as attoseconds -- or one-billionth of one-billionth of one second (10-18 s).

As these systems were attempting to create higher intensity pulses, squeezing more energy into shorter time windows, the optical components of standard approaches could not handle the peak powers without being damaged or destroyed. Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou solved this problem with a technique called chirped pulse amplification (CPA). Since its development, this method has led to an incredible increase in intensity for these systems of 10 orders of magnitude.

Their trick capitalized on the wide spectra within each pulse, first by stretching out pulses to longer times with a fiber whose refractive index sped up longer wavelengths relative to shorter ones. Then, they amplified these stretched -- or chirped -- pulses which resulted in significantly smaller peak intensities. The amplified pulses could then be recompressed at the final stage with a diffraction grating, producing much more intense resulting pulses.

The scheme has not only made petawatt lasers possible, providing fields like plasma physics the tools to create regimes of such extreme power and intensity, but has also provided ultrafast optics that can now measure processes as fast as an electron absorbing a photon. CPA has since allowed pulse widths to reach attoseconds, despite the high intensities that result simply from squeezing energy into such a short window of time.

Read Inside Science's coverage of the prize announcement and explanation of what hair dryers and optical tweezers have in common here


2018 Physics Nobel Prize AIP Publishing Journal Articles →

2018 Physics Nobel Prize AIP Member Society Resources →


From Physics Today -- Free access for a limited time

Ashkin, Mourou, and Strickland share 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, 2018, by Andrew Grant
Laser Beam Focus Forms Optical Trap for Neutral Atoms, 1985, by Bertram Schwarzschild
Commercial optical traps emerge from biophysics labs​, 2009, by Jermey N.A. Matthews



Arthur Ashkin was born in New York, New York, in 1922. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and his doctorate in physics from Cornell. From 1952 to 1992, Ashkin worked at Bell Laboratories where he developed the optical tweezers technique that has enabled scientists to investigate life at the smallest scales. In addition to this year’s Nobel Prize, Ashkin was awarded the 2004 Harvey Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and The Optical Society.

Gérard Mourou was born in France in 1944. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Grenoble in 1967 and his doctorate from the University of Paris VI in 1973. In 1985, while a professor at the University of Rochester, Strickland and Mourou published their seminal paper on chirped pulse amplification. Mourou is currently a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan and the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France.

Donna Strickland is the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Born in Guelph, Canada, in 1959, Strickland earned her bachelor’s in engineering physics from McMaster University in 1981 and her doctorate in physics (optics) from the University of Rochester in 1989. In 1985, while Strickland was working toward her doctorate, she and Mourou published their seminal paper on chirped pulse amplification. Strickland is currently an associate professor at the University of Waterloo where she leads a group that develops high-intensity laser systems for nonlinear optics investigations.


From the AIP Physics History Network

Arthur Ashkin
Gérard Mourou
Donna Strickland