Canadian physicist who won Nobel Prize touts science for the sake of science

Donna Strickland, 59, said securing the field’s highest honour has given her a significant new platform

Winning a Nobel Prize changed nearly everything about Donna Strickland’s professional life except the principles that helped shape it in the first place.

The University of Waterloo professor has watched enrolment in her courses double, landed a promotion at work and begun scheduling global lectures in the two months since she became the third woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in physics.

Strickland, 59, said securing the field’s highest honour has given her a significant new platform from which to share the importance of pursuing science for the sake of understanding how the world works rather than to achieve specific technological breakthroughs.

“Science first needs to be done for the sake of science,” Strickland said in a teleconference from Stockholm, Sweden where she accepted her award. “Then later on you have more scientific knowledge that can be applied to new technologies.”

Strickland said her own Nobel-winning research exemplifies the ways that answering fundamental questions about science can eventually lead to game-changing, practical applications.

Strickland split one half of this year’s Nobel physics prize with French scientist Gerard Mourou, who served as her PH.D adviser in the early 1980s.

Together the two discovered Chirped Pulse Amplification, a technique that underpins today’s short-pulse, high-intensity lasers and became the crucial component to corrective eye surgery.

READ MORE: Canadian physicist collects Nobel Prize

Strickland said she and Mourou were initially motivated by a desire to understand more about how light interacts with matter, adding the specific applications came only once the research was completed.

Strickland and Mourou both collected their shares of the US$1.01-million award on Monday, part of a whirlwind week in which laureates juggle a jam-packed schedule between moments in the lap of luxury. The other half of the Nobel prize went to Arthur Ashkin of the United States, who was the third winner of the award.

Strickland said she’s been revelling in the accommodations at the “magnificent” five-star hotel she’s been occupying since she arrived in Sweden on Dec. 5.

The 11-day trip has seen her both give lectures and hobnob with royalty, she said, describing a post-ceremony dinner with King Carl XVI Gustaf and his family as a fun and enjoyable night.

She even discovered the downside of having a driver and personal attache on hand to cater to her needs, saying their attentiveness made her complacent and resulted in her forgetting tickets to the prize ceremony for both herself and her husband.

“Once people start looking after you, I quit thinking about any details,” she said with a laugh.

Reality will set back in after Strickland returns to Canada. Strickland, who applied for and received full professorship at Waterloo after her Nobel win, said she plans to teach as much as possible while juggling an increasingly hectic schedule of lectures around the world.

Enrolment in her classes has doubled since she was named a Nobel laureate in October, she added.

Strickland said her newfound fame has brought her research before a wider audience, forcing her to learn new ways of communicating the complexities behind her award-winning work in order to connect with those without an extensive science background.

But she said her numerous new speaking engagements, already scheduled into 2020, will explore new territory as well.

Prior to winning the Nobel Prize Strickland said she had developed an interest in how photonics, or the study of light, can be used for environmental measurement and monitoring.

Her win, she said, has given her more of a “political voice” to help educate governments on potentially helpful scientific tools.

“Every country needs to be monitoring their environment now,” she said. “We think photonics has a really big role to play for that.”

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

School District 70 proposes new school names, asks for public feedback

Board of education suggests new names for the district and two of its schools

Washout brings delays to drivers heading in and out of Tofino-Ucluelet

West Coast commuters are facing delays Tuesday morning.

Ucluelet’s Royal Marine Search and Rescue team seeking new recruits

“We’re on call for anything and everything on the water.”

Five rescued after boat crashes between Tofino and Ahousaht

“Ahousaht has always been a willing participant to save anyone who is in distress in our territory.”

Search continues for missing Tofino dog allegedly taken by tourists

Shannon Boothman fears Itska has been taken off Vancouver Island after sighting at Nanaimo ferry.

B.C. politicians view supermodel’s transition journey on Transgender Day

Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite and New Democrat MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert appear in the documentary

B.C. won’t appeal decision protecting ICBC court experts

Change to evidence rules next to save money, David Eby says

1898 Yukon gold rush photo featuring Greta Thunberg look-alike sends internet into tailspin

Jokes erupted this week after a 120-year-old photo taken by Eric A. Hegg surfaced from archives

BC Ferries’ two new hybrid vessels set sail for B.C. from Romania

Two Island Class ferries to be in use by 2020

Distracted driving tickets not for ICBC revenue, B.C. minister says

Minister Mike Farnworth calls SenseBC analysis ‘nonsense’

CN Rail strike and lack of trucking alternatives stoke forest industry fears

Companies calling on the federal government to ‘do everything in its power’ to end the strike

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveils new Liberal cabinet

Pivotal role in his new cabinet for a minority-government era goes to Chrystia Freeland

B.C. mom, kids on bike turned away from Tim Hortons drive-thru

Car-free for years, Charity Millar ‘felt gross’ being denied service

B.C. woman puts call out for 10,000 personal, heartfelt Christmas cards for the homeless

Christmas Card Collective enters into third year of making spirits bright

Most Read