Father of ELI Wins Nobel Prize for Laser Physics

The scientist who first proposed the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) has won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics along with two other scientists.
Father of ELI Wins Nobel Prize for Laser Physics

Gérard Mourou, along with his former student, Donna Strickland, and Arthur Ashkin, were recognised for breakthroughs in laser technology that turned light beams into powerful precision tools for everything from eye surgery to micro-machining.

‘The Nobel Prize validates the vision Gérard Mourou had more than 15 years ago,’ says Allen Weeks, ELI’s Director General. ‘That vision is being realised at ELI with petawatt scale lasers. That’s opening new exotic science in the sub-atomic and nuclear realms, and exploration for decades to come.’

Mourou and Strickland developed a technique called ‘Chirped Pulse Amplification’, or CPA, back in 1985 as Strickland’s PhD work. That technique takes low-intensity light, stretches and amplifies it, then compresses it back into incredibly shortwith greater power than all the power stations in the world - for a billionth of a billionth of a second. That’s a key technology driving the Extreme Light Infrastructure.

‘Professor Mourou understood the potential of the discovery and has championed the possibilities of advanced laser science for decades,’ says Weeks. ‘That’s led to Europe having some of the most advanced laser systems in the world as well as leading companies in the field.’

Mourou first proposed ELI back in 2005 and later coordinated it as a bottom-up initiative of the European laser community. Later, with other key scientists, he co-authored the ELI ‘Whitebook’, the key technical proposal and science case published in 2010.

That proposal led to support from the European Commission and a number of European countries, resulting in the €850 million investment into ELI, the world’s first multi-site, large scale civilian scientific laser facility.

The timing of the award couldn’t be more appropriate. The three ELI facilities – located in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania – are completing construction and preparing to start the science programme in 2019.

‘There is already great support for ELI in Europe, in the scientific community, in the host countries and especially at the Commission,’ says Weeks. ‘But this really helps to emphasise how important the work is and is reassuring to all our stakeholders as we enter operations.’

Donna Strickland, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, is the third woman to win a Nobel for physics, after Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. She and Mourou shared the prize with Arthur Ashkin of Bell Laboratories in the United States for his work inventing "optical tweezers" and applying them to biological systems.