“Tools made of light”

This year’s Nobel Prize in physics has gone to three scientists for creating what has been described as “tools made of light”.

Arthur Ashkin — who, at 96, becomes the oldest scientist ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize — is credited with having invented what is famously known as “optical tweezers”. Actually a technology rather than a physical instrument, these “tweezers” are widely used for isolating and examining very small particles, such as individual atoms, DNA strands, or biological cells.

Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland, who share the other half of the Prize, developed a technique that has made it possible to generate most intense laser pulses that are now used in a wide variety of scientific and medical applications, including in eye surgeries.

In the process, Strickland, a 59-year-old Canadian scientist, has now become only the third woman to have received the Nobel Prize in Physics, after Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.