A Canadian physicist became the first woman in 55 years to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Donna Strickland shared the prestigious award with U.S. scientist Arthur Ashkin and French scientist Gérard Mourou for their “groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.” Strickland’s award represents just the third time in the prize’s history that a woman has been recognized for her achievements since Alfred Nobel created the prize in 1895.
Underscoring the significance of Strickland sharing in this year’s prize is that it happened one day after a top scientist at CERN was suspended for saying that “physics was built by men” and that the field is “becoming sexist against men.”
“We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. I’m honored to be one of those women,” Strickland said of being awarded the prize.
The inventions Strickland and Mourou pioneered have “revolutionized laser physics,” the Nobel Foundation said on Twitter. “Extremely small objects and incredibly fast processes now appear in a new light. Advanced precision instruments are opening up unexplored areas of research and a multitude of industrial and medical applications.” CNN reports that their achievements have led to far greater precision in laser eye surgery procedures.
Strickland has a reputation for loving her line of work. In fact, to make her field of science more appealing to students — she also teaches at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada — Strickland refers to herself as a “laser jock” rather than a “geek.”
In a 2010 interview, Strickland spoke about her love for her work, according to the BBC. “The most fun part of my day is when I get to play with my lasers. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still think it’s fun.”
Below, listen to a new interview with Strickland form the Nobel Foundation in which she discusses her work.