back to article Laser-sharp research sees three top boffins win the Nobel Prize in physics

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to a trio of researchers for their work in developing powerful lasers. Half of the prize money - worth nine million Swedish kronor ($1m or £770,000) - will go to Arthur Ashkin, a retired physicist who was the first to invent “optical tweezers” whilst working at Bell Labs. At 96 …

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    1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

      Full sub heading..

      "First woman woman in 55 years and the oldest recipient to date"..

      sounds like they're trying to breed more physicists..

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Pint

    Excellent news and great work by the boffins and it's great they're recognizing those who are now retired.. A toast all around..

  3. Florida1920 Silver badge

    Nothing for the sharks?

    Typical. Lab assistants always get screwed.

    1. Joe W

      Re: Nothing for the sharks?

      Have a beer! (and one for the sharks as well!)

      No icon.... stupid mobile version

  4. AMBxx Silver badge

    Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

    I hope this doesn't herald the start of 50:50 for nobel prizes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

      "I hope this doesn't herald the start of 50:50 for nobel prizes."

      It will not !!!

      It does highlight a disparity in the number of men/woman achieving Nobels vs the ratio of men/woman in the fields that *could* be awarded these prizes.

      It is not reasonable to argue that *only* men have worked in fields/areas of interest that deserve to win.

      It is likely that due to historic biases, more men will be working in some areas that are *more* likely to lead to winning research/discoveries/etc BUT even if this is true the 50 year gap is very telling of some lack of equality somewhere !!!

      Final point:

      All this debate should be defered until a later date.

      The winners male or female should be praised and celebrated for their achievements and *not* pushed to page 2 by debates about who is and is not deserving of winning.

      Well done to *all* the Nobel winners & thanks for all the hard work !!!

    2. ratfox Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

      Yeah, you give them a finger, and suddenly they want the whole arm, right? As if they had equal rights or something...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

      They’re making a big deal because that guy from CERN publicly went nuts the other day and scientifically put forward “proof” that women are getting special treatment in Physics. I suspect we’re going to start seeing more and more backlash against gender equality as time goes on and people (ok, men) start feeling they are getting a bad deal. It’s happening in most industries right now and 50:50 is always the target despite a lack of female candidates wanting to join the profession. The problem is no longer at the job end though, it’s parents training their girls with baby dolls and pink everything from a young age. You treat them like a princess and they won’t want to be a physicist. Go figure.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

        >The problem is no longer at the job end though, it’s parents training their girls with baby dolls and pink everything from a young age. You treat them like a princess and they won’t want to be a physicist. Go figure.

        Hmmm, my sister who was actively encouraged in the sciences by our parents was doing double maths A level, chemistry and biology with an IQ over 150 then decided she did want to do science and became a reasonably successful model.

        Powerful stuff genetics.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

          Girls can be girls and do physics, they don't have to give up dolls (not that liking dolls is the definition of being girly but I hope you see my point).

          Nor, does upbringing seem to have much to do with it. I've seen girls who were encouraged in science at home and at school walk away from it just because they didn't want to do it any more. In the end it just didn't interest them despite "positive" influence from parents and society.

          As an aside the response to the CERN scientist should have been to examine his data and see if it justifies what he's saying. Instead it seems to have lead to a lot of name calling. Ironic given that this is supposed to be about science.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

            >Girls can be girls and do physics

            Sure. And many do so, at undergrad levels. For some reason far fewer do so at postgrad levels, especially as PhD students. And the numbers are thinned out even further when you look at post doc positions. And you need typically several rounds as a post doc before you can get tenure.

            The trouble is, we never hear about the reasons for this, only the blindly obvious thing that the opposite is possible. It is not too surprising then that this demographics is also reflected in tenured positions.

            And this is not a single datum case, it is what I have seen over many years in academia and in research institutions, in several countries as I too undertook this route.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

          "Hmmm, my sister who was actively encouraged in the sciences"

          Oh thank goodness, a single datum of anecdotal evidence. Now we can really get into the nitty gritty of the problem!

          Perhaps she "decided" to leave science and become a model because she liked looking pretty rather than wearing a lab suit? Perhaps when she was young she was repeatedly told how pretty she looked when in dresses, reinforcing that that was a good goal for a woman, followed by magazines and TV continuing the brainwashing and reinforcement?

          Maybe I'm a techie because I was told that playing with lego, building things, designing things, and playing with computers were a great goal for a man? All we do know is that I don't have any desire to play in dresses and make-up to look pretty. Well, not during working hours at least...

          Powerful stuff, repeated suggestion over decades.

          1. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

            "a single datum of anecdotal evidence"

            Here's another one. There weren't exactly lots of female IT teachers where I graduated - but the one I always admired and ended up having frank discussions with later was always very clear about having always had a keen interest in tech very much in spite of and not thanks to the innumerable attempts of her family to "straighten her out" back to playing with dolls, as was thought to be exclusively appropriate for a girl at that time in that culture.

            "not that liking dolls is the definition of being girly"

            Public Opinion: "Dolls are for girls, yo!"

            RealDoll LLC: "Oh really? Hold my beer..."

        3. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

          "Hmmm, my sister who was actively encouraged in the sciences by our parents was doing double maths A level, chemistry and biology with an IQ over 150 then decided she did want to do science and became a reasonably successful model.

          Powerful stuff genetics money."

          FTFY.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

        >I suspect we’re going to start seeing more and more backlash against gender equality as time goes on and people (ok, men) start feeling they are getting a bad deal

        Yeah it's really tough being a man. I assume this 'backlash' will be coming from men angry that after 1000 years of women being 2nd-class citizens, men have allegedly been slightly penalised for about a decade due to an overcorrection. How terrible for us, that we might face minor inconvenience once in a while.

        1. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

          @JDX

          Thanks for tell us that you clearly have no understanding of traditional gender roles in history.

          Also does mocking people who complain about inequality make you feel better in some way?

        2. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

          "Yeah it's really tough being a man. I assume this 'backlash' will be coming from men angry that after 1000 years of women being 2nd-class citizens, men have allegedly been slightly penalised for about a decade due to an overcorrection. How terrible for us, that we might face minor inconvenience once in a while."

          It's almost like you are wanting to punish some members of a particular sex because others from that sex did something bad. How sexist of you.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

            Anyone ever worked with these kids?

            It's less to do with gender and pink dollies than it is to do with image and fashion and the kind of person that they are told is ideal.

            It isn't the speccy studious STEM swot nerd. And despite girls getting excellent results in their STEM subjects, they often don't want to be that image. Boys can get away with this.

            You only have to look at an F300 Physics fresher intake to understand the difference between these people and media idealised people.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

        "it’s parents training their girls with baby dolls and pink everything from a young age. You treat them like a princess and they won’t want to be a physicist. "

        Well, in my parenting experience, they make the decisions about colours for themselves. I've got one who only wants green things, and has done since she discovered that she was allowed to express a preference, and one who has gone through wanting only pink things, then only purple things, then only blue things, but hasn't (yet) got round to asking to paint her bedroom black.

      4. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

        The evidence from computer science indicates that it's not all the parents' fault, if any of it is. In 1984 something between 35% and 40% of CS graduates ('majors' it says: does this mean graduates?) were women. Today it's under 20%: about a factor of two less.

        So unless somehow, starting after 1984, there has been a concerted campaign by parents to discourage their daughters from doing CS. which seems unlikely, something else accounts for this change.

        (The figures for physical sciences are much better: I don't know how physics specifically comes out.)

        Note also that this dramatic decline also rules out any of the stupid 'but women are just no good at this stuff' arguments: if women were genetically not as good as men in CS then any change would take many generations, as evolution is really slow.

      5. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

        You treat them like a princess and they won’t want to be a physicist.

        Care to cite any evidence from methodologically-sound studies supporting this claim?

        Personally, I believe gender disparity in the sciences, and indeed in most fields, is socially conditioned with no significant physiological component. But I don't think simplistic associations between childhood exploration of certain cliché gender roles and subsequent preferences in areas of study are compelling explanations.

        Few problems are simple, and few complex problems have simple solutions.

        As an anecdotal counterexample, I'll note my older granddaughter, at 5 1/2, is equally entertained by (and capable of entertaining herself with) princesses and physics.

        I myself recall engaging in quite a lot of fantasy play as a callow youth, but that didn't stop me from doing AP Physics in high school. I probably never pretended to be a princess, but if that's the key, it's a rather specific pathology you're positing.

      6. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

        I suspect we’re going to start seeing more and more backlash against gender equality as time goes on and people (ok, men) start feeling they are getting a bad deal.

        The old "reverse discrimination" from the 70's is raising it's ugly head again. Back then, if two candidates applied for the same job, usually the "person of color" got the job as it ticked many boxes and "experience" wasn't considered for either person. I now note that companies are looking to hire female board members also. There probably aren't enough qualified candidates for that job so this will get interesting.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Newspapers making big deal of 1st woman for over 50 years

      >I hope this doesn't herald the start of 50:50 for nobel prizes.

      It will be worse there'll be all sorts of different ones for each acronym and lastly there'll be the Heisenberg Uncertainty Special Prize for those who aren't sure.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Pint

    fS laser pulses are qualitiatively different than longer ones.

    Effectively matter has no time to react or "relax" to absorb the energy. So it pumps a great deal of energy into a small surface zone of the object. This makes machining metals (especially if they are under a thin sheet of water) much easier.

    It also helps if you're building very big lasers for fusion research.

    So a pint to all of them (and yes you can make a laser with alcohol).

    1. ciaran

      Re: fS laser pulses are qualitiatively different than longer ones.

      For example "Laser Shock Peening". Good description in this article about the F-35B (the SVTOL one).

      https://www.ida.org/idamedia/Corporate/Files/Publications/ResearchNotes/RNSpring2016/RN2016-RecentDevsJointStrikeFighter.pdf

      LSP uses high-energy laser pulses to create a shock wave that mechanically not used to create thermal effects). The process, shown in Figure 4, involves first coating the part surface with a sacrificial ablative layer (typically paint or tape). Water is then flowed over the part surface and a high-energy laser (1-10 GW/cm2)1 is directed at the target region. A laser pulse vaporizes the ablative layer, creating a plasma cloud that is confined by the water layer. The rapidly expanding plasma generates a pressure shock wave (1-10 GPa)2 that plastically compresses the metal, ...

  6. Cynical Pie

    Didn't understand a damn word...

    The techie stuff means bugger all to me but what I really want to know is how easy can these be attached to Sharks?

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    Congrats to all the winners!

    Stunning work, and about time a woman got the accolade too

    1. The First Dave

      Re: Congrats to all the winners!

      Stunning work, completely regardless of the people involved.

  8. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Congrats to all...

    ...these people have brains working on a much higher plane than mine.

    Especially glad to see a 96 year old get the prize. I had a somewhat aged superstar employee return from a personnel review ready to go postal. Seems the branch head didn't believe he had done significant contributions, since "...most real science and engineering is done by men in their 20s and 30s. Most Nobel prizes are won by young people..."

    The BH of course is a proud Harvard Preschool of Management grad. I might pee on him if he is on fire, but I'm conflicted

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "Especially glad to see a 96 year old get the prize."

      He was lucky to be able to wait for so long, because the Noble can be assigned only to living person... just, or they have a big backlog, or they should be able to assess the value of a research much earlier...

      1. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

        Re: "Especially glad to see a 96 year old get the prize."

        @LDS,

        Excellent points. I'd like to understand the selection process. At least for the hard sciences Nobels, I read the announcements and always come away impressed, humbled, and inspired.

        For the Literature and Peace prizes? Not so much.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Especially glad to see a 96 year old get the prize

      I heard he was very pleased to receive the prize, especially after they told him what it was he'd done.

    3. hplasm Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Congrats to all...

      " I might pee on him if he is on fire, but I'm conflicted"

      Drink lots * of Polish Spirit first!

      1. reduces inner conflict

      2. increases pee flammability

      (3. Gives you a massive hangover)

      * 1 small (tiny) bottle max , unless Polish

      Note: Polish not polish!

  9. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    This year's Ig Nobel in Literature is pretty good

    Probably better than the legit Lit prize. See:

    https://www.improbable.com/ig/winners/

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: This year's Ig Nobel in Literature is pretty good

      And surprised Trump didn't get the Peace Prize just for not starting WW3...

      ( Obama did set an odd precedent...)

      1. adnim Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: This year's Ig Nobel in Literature is pretty good

        ( Obama did set an odd precedent...)

        Where as Trump is just an odd president.

        1. mosw

          Re: This year's Ig Nobel in Literature is pretty good

          "Where as Trump is just an odd president."

          Literally true as, according to wikipedia, he is the 45th president. Also true for many other reasons.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: This year's Ig Nobel in Literature is pretty good

      Probably better than the legit Lit prize.

      It would almost have to be, since there won't be a Nobel in Literature awarded this year.

      That said, the IgLit winner does look good from the description, though I haven't read the actual work. Though it'd probably be hard to compare the two, because the IgLit is for, in effect, a work of literary theory (it's a reception study); while the NobLit hasn't been awarded for litcrit in 18 years, so probably wouldn't have been this year either.

      And of course the NobLit is pretty much always controversial. Ishiguro is the most recent NobLit, and an author I'm quite fond of myself, but I've read reasonable critiques of the decision. And, of course, in 2016 it was Bob Dylan, and more than a few people had something to say about that.

  10. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Time to get that promotion file ready

    Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo

    Man, even at Waterloo, I bet a Nobel counts for something when you go up for full professor.

    In all seriousness, congrats to the lot of them. The Nobel certainly isn't an ideal mechanism for recognizing the best work (too few recipients, takes too long, etc), but that needn't stop us from applauding those who get one.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Positive chirp

    "The beam is said to be positively ‘chirped’ when the low frequencies lag behind the high frequencies, effectively stretching out the laser beam." I think you got this wrong: It's positively chirped when the high frequencies (blue) lags behind the low frequencies (red).

    Also, the 'ultrashort zaps' didn't ever quite reach the 1 fs regime due to the annoying tendency of optical materials to add positive chirp to the laser pulses. There are attosecond pulses, but they are produced in a quite different fashion.

  12. CompliantAndy

    "The beam is said to be positively ‘chirped’ when the low frequencies lag behind the high frequencies, effectively stretching out the laser beam." I think you got this wrong: It's positively chirped when the high frequencies (blue) lags behind the low frequencies (red).'

    ...Sound like 'Light Sabers' to me!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doctor Who

    Well its just possible. Actually there are/were now three Physics laureates if you include Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer.

    Interestingly it is said that her notebooks still can't be safely handled even nearly 100 years later.

    Wonder why they used an Arduino for the sonic screwdriver? Its clearly visible, in fact you can see the model number and chip version in freeze frame.

    Also is that a 555 timer?! Old school.

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Doctor Who

      "Wonder why they used an Arduino for the sonic screwdriver? Its clearly visible, in fact you can see the model number and chip version in freeze frame.

      "Also is that a 555 timer?! Old school."

      If you are talking about the new Doctor Who, she was building her new sonic screwdriver out of what ever random parts she found in that Earth workshop. A 555 might be old school, but it still does the job if that's all you can find. Likely something a little more powerful than an Arduino would be needed for the brains of the device, but the local super computers of the time are not particularly portable. When scavenging parts to build tech, you make do with what you find.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE. Re. Doctor Who

    Its also possible that the Arduino controlled some functions as well.

    I have some experience with these, its feasible to make one do very complex realtime sensitive housekeeping tasks under control of a larger CPU eg Pi Zero without the timing overheads of the latter.

    As it happens I am also planning to make a sonic device, mine will also include GaN based FET induction heater with optical and dual infrared feedback using bits from an ear thermometer found in the road.

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