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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo’s Mt. Benson with flares during icy rope rescue

Search and rescue team gets injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters next week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo’s NRGH

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All seniors in long-term care on the Island will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
UPDATE: Snowfall warning issued for Nanaimo area, up to 5 cm forecast

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters next week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

VIU’s health and science centre. (Vancouver Island University photo)
VIU to train 72 health-care assistants to work with seniors

B.C. Ministry of Health announces details of health career access program

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization, a non-profit, seeks to raise $8,000 for a play structure to help children remain active during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization asking for help fundraising for play structure

Physical activities have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, says non-profit

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

Most Read