The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for having “revolutionized laser physics,” as per a press release from the Nobel Committee. All three have used physics to have significant contributions to human health.
The award, which along with global recognition comes with 9 million Swedish krona ($998,865), will be split, with half going to Ashkin and the other half to Mourou and Strickland.
Ashkin’s award is being given for his ability to “realize an old dream of science fiction – using the radiation pressure of light to move physical objects.” Citing scientific legends like Kepler and James Clerk Maxwell, the Nobel Committee says that Ashkin’s development of what was first called an all-optical single-beam trap and later became known as “optical tweezers.”
In 1987 Ashkin and his team were able to send a laser through a microscope’s objective lens and trapping particles varying in size from a tens of nanometres up to tens of micrometres (20 mm is equivalent 0.00078 inches). While the idea was at first considered for trapping and manipulating atoms, Ashkin quickly moved towards biological uses.
Ashkin was able to prove that “optical tweezers” were capable of trapping and manipulating atoms instead.