Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 – New Advancements in Laser Technology

This blog post is part of a series of articles on the scientific research that led to this year’s Nobel Prizes. The official Nobel Prize Award Ceremony will take place in Stockholm on 10 December 2018.

 

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded one half to Arthur Ashkin for his research on optical tweezers that led to new insights into biophysics and cell biology, and one half jointly to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou for their research on new methods to create intense laser pulses that have changed manufacturing and medical procedures.

The prize is the latest in a series of awards to recognise developments in laser technology that demonstrate how lasers continue to be the wave of the future. Lasers were first developed in 1960, and they have since revolutionised scientific instruments, medical procedures, and manufacturing, among many other applications. Here’s how the two advances recognised by the 2018 Nobel Prize came to be and how they are used today.

Trapped Particles

Lasers generate an intense, narrow beam of single-colour light with waves aligned in direction, frequency, and phase. Light particles, called photons, travel inside those waves, and generate optical forces when they hit an object and scatter.

In 1970, Arthur Ashkin, one of this year’s physics laureates, used those forces to pull a microparticle into a laser beam and trap it inside. Eventually, he also suspended a virus and a living cell. His technique, called ‘optical tweezers’, has since been key to studying the kinetics and mechanics of cellular motors and components.

Here’s how optical tweezers work:

When Ashkin first suspended a micron-sized particle inside a laser beam, he noticed that the particle was drawn into the center of the beam, where the intensity was the greatest. He realised that two types of optical forces kept the particle trapped in the beam. The forward motion of photons pushed the particle in the direction of the laser light. This radiation pressure was strong enough to levitate microparticles inside a vertical laser beam.

A second force, the one that drove the particle toward the center of the beam, also traps it inside the beam. This gradient force results from the laser’s intensity being weaker on the edges of the beam and strongest in the center. Focusing the beam with a lens generates a very steep intensity gradient, so that the gradient force becomes stronger than the one pushing the particles forward in the beam. Once Ashkin and his colleagues added a lens to their optical tweezers, they trapped particles 10 µm to 25 nm in diameter in water.

While experimenting with trapping different kinds of particles, Ashkin realised he could trap a virus or a bacterial cell. He changed the system to use an infrared laser, instead of a green one, and then he could even trap living cells. Because of Ashkin’s work on biological systems, optical tweezers are now commonly used in biophysics and cell biology. Groundbreaking biophysical experiments with optical tweezers include attaching a protein called ‘kinesin’ to an optically trapped bead. Inside cells, kinesin carries molecular cargo throughout cells by walking along filaments called microtubules. Using optical tweezers, researchers made the first measurements of the length of each of kinesin’s steps.

Intensity boost

Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou shared the other half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for their method of boosting the intensity of ultra-short laser pulses in a way that did not melt the laser components. Their approach has led to industrial and medical applications of lasers, including precision manufacturing and eye surgery.

During the first 25 years of laser development, researchers figured out how to create ultra-short pulses of laser light, but the intensity of these pulses was limited. They could only amplify nanojoules of energy in each pulse to the millijoule level because more intense pulses damaged the amplifying material and laser components.

One way researchers increased the pulse intensity was by widening the beam diameter to disperse its intensity. However, this required large and costly equipment that only national research institutes could host. Also, these lasers could only deliver a few pulses each day, because they needed time to cool down between shots.

In 1985, Strickland and Mourou described a method to solve this problem. Inspired by radar technology, they decided to reduce the peak power of a laser pulse by first stretching its wavelength by several orders of magnitude. Then they could amplify the wave without damaging the material. Finally, they compressed the wave to restore its original properties. Two years after demonstrating chirped pulse amplification, they altered the components of the system and amplified nanojoule pulses to joules of energy – an increase of nine orders of magnitude.

Following the development of chirped pulse amplification, researchers used it to deliver increasingly short and intense laser pulses. These pulses combined to create high powered lasers in affordable instruments. Academic researchers can now purchase tabletop lasers that deliver terawatts of power, the peak power of the large lasers once only found at research institutes. Institutes now run petawatt lasers, and at least 50 petawatt lasers are operating, under construction or being planned worldwide. The Extreme Light Infrastructure Beamlines facility, a project spearheaded by Mourou and under construction in Prague, Czech Republic, will have a 10 PW laser system.

These ultrafast, high intensity laser pulses have opened new areas of research in physics, including studying matter in the condensed phase and the dynamics of electrons inside atoms.

Intense laser pulses also have practical applications in precision manufacturing and medical procedures. Less intense pulses can heat treat a material, while more intense pulses can cut, carve or pierce it. Short, intense laser pulses are also essential for LASIK eye surgery, where doctors reshape the outer covering of a patient’s eye to correct vision problems that usually require wearing glasses or contacts.

Additional Note: Find out more about the fascinating world of Laser Technology in a Topic Cluster in our mediatheque.

Thomas A. Steitz 1940–2018

Thomas Steitz with young scientists at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2018. Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

The Council and Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings deeply mourns the loss of laureate Thomas Steitz, who sadly passed away on 9 October 2018 at the age of 78. He received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies on ribosomes.

Steitz completed his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard University in 1966. After research stays in Europe, he moved back to the US. He was a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Professor of Chemistry at Yale University.

Thomas Steitz participated in four Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, only recently in 2018. The Council and Foundation extend their deep sympathies to Thomas Steitz’ family.

2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2018 Nobel Laureates Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018.

On Wednesday, 3 October 2018, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 to Frances H. Arnold “for the directed evolution of enzymes”  and to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”.

Find out more about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry here.

The Power of Evolution: Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018

Today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry. Frances H. Arnold (USA) received one half of the prize “for the directed evolution of enzymes”; the other half of the prize was awarded to George P. Smith (USA) and Sir Gregory P. Winter (UK) “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”.

2018 Nobel Laureates Frances H. Arnold, George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter. Illustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018.

From the press release of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences:

“The power of evolution is revealed through the diversity of life. The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from biofuels to pharmaceuticals. Antibodies evolved using a method called phage display can combat autoimmune diseases and in some cases curemetastatic cancer.”

Read more about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry here.

Revolutionising Laser Technology: Nobel Prize in Physics 2018

Today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 to three scientists: Arthur Ashkin (USA), Gérard Mourou (France) and Donna Strickland (Canada) for their groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics.

2018 Nobel Laureates Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland. Ilustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018.

From the scientific background released by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences:

“Arthur Ashkin invented optical tweezers that grab particles, atoms and molecules with their laser beam fingers. Viruses, bacteria and other living cells can be held too, and examined and manipulated without being damaged. Ashkin’s optical tweezers have created entirely new opportunities for observing and controlling the machinery of life.

Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by mankind. The technique they developed has opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications; for example, millions of eye operations are performed every year with the sharpest of laser beams.”

Read more about the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 here.

Learn more about the fascinating world of laser technologies in our topic cluster.

New Principle for Cancer Therapy: Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2018

Today, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.

2018 Nobel Laureates James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo. Ilustration: Niklas Elmehed. Copyright: Nobel Media AB 2018

From the press release of the Karolinska Institutet

“Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells this year’s Nobel Laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.

James P. Allison studied a known protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors. He then developed this concept into a brand new approach for treating patients.

In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer.

Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer. The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer.”

Read more about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Learn more about the possibilities of immunotherapies in our topic cluster. 

#LINO18 Daily Recap – Friday, 29 June 2018

After a week filled with impassionate lectures, insightful discussions and an abundance of scientific exchange we have come to the end of our  68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – before we bid you farewell, take one more look at our highlights from Friday.

 

Picture of the day:

Farewell

Young scientist Nataly Naser Al Deen gave a heartfelt farewell speech to all #LINO18 participants.

Photo/Credit: Gero von der Stein/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day: 

Young scientists attending a Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting frequently ask the laureates for career advice. In her latest blog post Tracing the Beginnings of a Scientific Career, Melissae Fellet describes  J. Michael Bishop’s and Harold Varmus’ experiences on career planning.  

Harold Varmus J. and Michael Bishop during the #LINO18 Agora Talk. Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

https://twitter.com/MohamedBrolosy/status/1012684984447045632?s=09

https://twitter.com/Kiaraso/status/1012633901024661504?s=19

https://twitter.com/embl/status/1012683990795456512?s=19

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

Video of the day:

A glimpse of the final day of #LINO18 filled with inspiring encounters, fruitful discussions and last but not least a great party.

 

Obviously, this is not the only video of #LINO18! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

This was our last Daily Recap. We hope you enjoyed this week as much as we did and felt the Lindau Spirit!

Goodbye Lindau Alumni! Let’s stay connected!

#LINO18 Daily Recap – Thursday, 28 June 2018

Thursday was the last day at the Inselhalle in Lindau but not the last day of the meeting. Friday is going to take our participants to Mainau Island, so while they are enjoying their last day on this picturesque island, let’s take a look at what happened yesterday. Here are our highlights from Thursday:

Picture of the day:

Lecture by Ada Yonath

Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath giving a fascinating lecture on ‘Next Generation Species Specific Eco Friendly Antibiotics and Thoughts about Origin of Life’.

 

Picture/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day:

What will the future of scientific publishing look like? In her latest post, blogger Judith Reichel reflects on the heated debate during the #LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’.

#LINO18 panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’. Photo/Credit: Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

https://twitter.com/martina_kapitza/status/1012440530125508608

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

Video of the day:

Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie talks about his experiences in Lindau and shares that the best part of the meetings are the interactions with young scientists.

 

Obviously, this is not the only video from yesterday and today! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

Tomorrow you will receive our last daily recap of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Then it will be over with the  highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.

#LINO18 Daily Recap – Wednesday, 27 June 2018

With Wednesday ending, we are striding towards the last two days of the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – but that most certainly does not mean that the next days will be any less exciting than the previous ones. Talking about exciting days, let’s go take a look at some of yesterday’s highlights!

 

Video of the day:

The panel discussion ‘Publish or Perish’ with Nobel Laureates Randy Schekman and Harold Varmus was a heated debate on the role of high-impact scientific journals, transparency in the publication process and the responsibilities of publishers and scholars. 

 

 

Obviously, this is not the only video of #LINO18! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

Picture of the day:

Science Breakfast

Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt enjoying a light-hearted conversation with young scientists during the Science Breakfast of #LINO18

Photo/Credit : Patrick Kunkel/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day:

We can’t wait for the Bavarian Evening taking place tonight! On our blog, Alaina Levine proposes some Dos and Don’ts  for the penultimate #LINO18 party, and she also lifts a little surprise of the night…

Photo/Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

 

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

Over the course of the next two days, we will keep you updated on the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with our daily recaps. The idea behind it is to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps will feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.

#LiNO18 Daily Recap – Tuesday, 26 June 2018

We are already three days into this year’s Lindau Meeting and there are so many interesting things happening. We have collected a huge amount of exhilarating pictures, exceptional lectures and thought-provoking blog contributions. So as you can imagine there is so much more you should definitely check out on our mediatheque. For now enjoy some of yesterday’s highlights below!

 

Picture of the day:

Poster Session

Mohammed El-Brolosy explaining his research to other young scientists and Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler 

Photo/Credit: Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

 

For even more pictures from the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, past and present, take a look at our Flickr account.

 

Blog post of the day:

In her latest blog post, science journalist Alaina Levine describes the challenges of improving health care in developing nations and presents some exciting initiatives of #LINO18 young scientists Svenja Kohler from Germany, Nataly Naser Al Deen from Lebanon and Jeerapond Leelawattanachai from Thailand. 

 

Do take a look at more exciting blog posts.

 

Tweets of the day:

Last but not least, follow us on Twitter @lindaunobel and Instagram @lindaunobel and keep an eye out for #LINO18

 

 

Video of the day:

Young scientist Arunima Roy from the University of Würzburg comments on the psychology of the post-factual problem, describing her research on ADHD and how it can help to understand people’s inability to pay attention.

 

 

Obviously, this is not the only video from yesterday and today! You are more than welcome to browse through our mediatheque or our YouTube channel for more!

 

Over the course of the next three days, we will keep you updated on the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting with our daily recaps. The idea behind it is to bring to you the day’s highlights in a blink of an eye. The daily recaps will feature blog posts, photos and videos from the mediatheque.