Nobel Prize celebrates ultra-fast laser physics

The Monash University Faculty of Science congratulates the physicists recognised this week for being awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for ground-breaking inventions in the field of laser physics.

Nobel-Prize-Storie Half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to American physicist Professor Arthur Ashkin for optical tweezers and its application to biological systems.

Professors Ashkin, Mourou, and Strickland. Photo: Science News.

The other half of the prize was awarded to French physicist Professor Gérard Mourou and Canadian physicist Professor Donna Strickland for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. Professor Strickland is the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics since 1963.

2018 represents an encouraging landmark in the recognition of women by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, with two women becoming Nobel Laureates: Professor Donna Strickland (Physics) and Professor Frances Arnold (Chemistry).

Welcoming the news, Professor Michael Morgan, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Monash University said optical tweezers has opened up undreamt of opportunities for exploring biological systems, whilst ultra-fast laser physics was critical to the development of the next generation of electronic devices.

“Laser physicists are particularly excited about this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics,” Professor Morgan said.

“The ultra-fast laser pulsing technique developed by Professors Mourou and Strickland have had enormous impact across the fields of chemistry, physics and biology,” he said.

“It is noteworthy that the prize was awarded for work based on Professor Strickland's first scientific paper as a PhD student.”

Ultra-fast laser pulsing technique at Monash

Monash University researchers use Mourou and Strickland’s ultra-fast pulsing technique to study novel materials, with a view to exploring and developing new efficient ultra-fast electronics.

“This research is made possible by Mourou and Strickland’s invention,” explains Dr Agustin Schiffrin from the School of Physics and Astronomy.

“Their development of chirped-pulse amplification (CPA) enabled the generation of intense, ultrashort laser pulses, as fast as a few femtoseconds in duration (a femtoscond is a millionth of a billionth of a second).”

In atoms, molecules and materials,  electrons move very quickly – on the timescale of femtoseconds, or even faster. This means that tracking an electron in an electronic circuit, solar cell or chemical reaction requires experimental probes that operate at similar speeds.

“Understanding – and ultimately controlling – such ultrafast electronic behaviour can potentially open to door to novel, ultrafast electronics technologies,” says Dr Schiffrin.

Dr. Schiffrin’s investigation of nanomaterials is part of FLEET (the Centre for Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies), an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence headquartered at Monash University, bringing together over a hundred Australian and international experts to develop a new generation of ultra-low energy electronics.

The impetus behind such work is the increasing challenge of energy used in computation, which uses 5–8% of global electricity and is doubling every decade.

It represents just one example part of the significant value to the scientific and global community coming from Mourou and Strickland’s invention.