She shared the prize with US scientist Arthur Ashkin and Frenchman Gerard Mourou.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on October 3, 2018

The trio won for their work in laser physics. The award meant Strickland became the first woman in 55 years to take out the prize, after Maria Goeppert-Mayer’s win in 1963. Marie Curie was the first woman to win the honour in 1903.

Responding to a question about being just the third woman to win, Strickland asked “Is that all, really? I thought there might have been more.”

“We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. Hopefully, in time, it will start to move forward at a faster rate,” she added.

Strickland’s work “revolutionised laser physics”

Dr Ashskin also made history, becoming the oldest person to win the award at age 96. Ashkin had developed a laser technique known as optical tweezers which allow scientists to manipulate viruses, particles and atoms.

Strickland and Mourou’s work increased the power and intensity of lasers by stretching, amplifying and compressing the beams. The pair developed a technique called Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) which can be used in laser therapy for corrective eye surgeries or in treating cancer.

Their work also paved the way for ultra-fast camera technology that allows scientists to capture chemical interactions and the movement of electrons around an atom.

“The inventions being honoured this year have revolutionised laser physics,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

“Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications.”

Strickland’s historic win highlights continuing gender inequality in the STEM field

Roisin Owens, a Biochemical Engineer at University of Cambridge, told AFP “there are women doing excellent research in all kinds of fields.”

She said that while women rarely won the top honours in science, demographics were changing rapidly and awards bodies needed to keep up with changing demographics.

“Sometimes people are looking in their own echo chamber, but the excuse of ‘oh, we couldn’t find any women (to reward)’ doesn’t wash anymore.”

Just days earlier, CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, suspended one of its scientists after he gave a speech which claimed “physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation” at a scientific conference.

In January 2018, the Pew Research Center published a report that found 50% of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) have experienced gender discrimination on the job, and 36% of women said sexual harassment was a problem in their workplace.

Earlier in 2018, Wikipedia rejected a Wikipedia user’s attempt to create an entry for Strickland, claiming she was not notable enough.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature last year after an acrimonious internal dispute over sexism.