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

Cariboo Regional District Area A Director Mary Sjostrom, School District 28 board chair Dave Chapman and Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson plant ceremonial shovels into the ground at what will become Quesnel’s newest school during a ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 20. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Construction begins on new Quesnel Junior School

A groundbreaking ceremony was held to kick off the two-year project

B.C. Conservative Leader Trevor Bolin and Cariboo North candidate Kyle Townsend were practising proper physical distancing during a campaign stop in Quesnel on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Bolin first party leader to visit Quesnel

The B.C. Conservative Pary’s leader made the stop to support Kyle Townsend

Seasons House provides shelter and services to people in Quesnel who are experiencing homelessness, and they’ll be able to do a little more in November once a toque and toiletry drive organized by the Quesnel Women’s Resource Centre wraps up. (File Photo)
Quesnel toque and toiletry drive runs until Oct. 30

The Quesnel Women’s Resource Centre is collecting items for Seasons House

Workers from the Quesnel Child and Youth Support Society prepare Christmas hampers in 2019. The society was one of seven recipients of funding in the first round of the Emergency Community Support Fund. The Quesnel Community Foundation is now accepting donations for the second round of funding and is urging local groups to apply before Oct. 30. (Facebook)
Quesnel Community Foundation urges area groups to apply for COVID-19 relief funding

The deadline to apply for Round 2 of the Emergency Community Support Fund is Oct. 30

The best photo of the Fraser River Walking Bridge taken on Oct. 23 or 24 will be rewarded with a donation to the Polio Plus Fund on behalf of the Rotary Club of Quesnel. (File Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel’s footbridge set for scarlet spotlight

The Fraser River Footbridge will be bathed in red light to mark World Polio Day Oct. 23 and 24

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read