Two men and a woman have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for their "inventions in the field of laser physics."

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says half of the $1 million prize will go to Arthur Ashkin of the United States. The other half will be shared by Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada.

The Swedish academy said their discoveries made possible "tools made of light" that improve scientific research, industry and medicine.

These devices "are opening unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications," it said.

A combination picture shows the Nobel Prize for Physics 2018 award winners (L-R) Arthur Ashkin of the U.S., Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada, October 2, 2018. (REUTERS)
A combination picture shows the Nobel Prize for Physics 2018 award winners (L-R) Arthur Ashkin of the U.S., Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada, October 2, 2018. (REUTERS)

New tools for science and industry

Mourou and Strickland are being recognized for their work on high-intensity lasers. The Swedish academy praised them for developing a way to increase the power and usefulness of lasers.

A laser is a device that produces an intense beam of light. In a report published in 1985, Strickland proposed stretching and then compressing laser light. She and Mourou found a way to produce a powerful laser pulse that lasts an almost unimaginably short period of time. Their technique puts more light "in the same tiny space," greatly increasing its intensity.

Their discoveries led to very precise, powerful lasers that can cut holes in different materials, including living tissue. Such lasers are now used in corrective eye operations. Millions of these operations have been performed on people around the world.

Strickland is only the third woman to ever win the Nobel physics prize. The first was Marie Curie of France in 1903.

Strickland spoke briefly about the lack of women physics winners in a telephone call with the academy.

"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," she said.

Mourou said, "I am very, very happy to share this distinction with my former student Donna Strickland and also to share it with Art Ashkin, for whom I have a lot of respect."

The American scientist will receive half of the prize money for what the academy called "optical tweezers."

Ashkin discovered that the "radiation pressure" from a beam of light can be used to move extremely small objects and hold them in position. In 1987, he used a laser to seize and hold bacteria without harming them. His discovery made possible new ways to study microscopic biology and other objects.

At the age of 96, Ashkin is the oldest person to ever receive a Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize in Physics will be officially presented at ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10.

The first physics prize was given in 1901 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Mario Ritter adapted this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on reports from VOANews, the Associated Press, Reuters and the Nobel Prize website. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

beam – n. a line of light coming from a source

multitude – n. a great number of things

application – n. the use of an idea, method or law in a situation or for a purpose

compress – v. to press or squeeze something so that is fills less space

pulse – n. a short increase in an amount of electricity, light or sound

obviously – adv. easy to see, understand or recognize

distinction – n. a special honor, recognition or award

precise – adj. exact

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