Nobel Prize in Physics won by scientists using lasers to solve the universe’s smallest mysteries


Winners Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland helped develop technology dreamed up in science fiction that led to breakthroughs such as eye surgery.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics has been given to scientists who used lasers to solve some of the universe’s smallest mysteries.

The award was given to Arthur Ashkin and the other half jointly to Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland.

Ashkin was given the prize for “optical tweezers and their application to biological systems”, the committee wrote. Those optical tweezers use lasers to grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells.

That in turn allowed for something from science fiction’s dreams: using light to move physical objects around. He found that he could push small particles towards the centre of the beam and hold them there.

As well as being a stunning breakthrough in itself, the discovery led to further work as scientists could use the tweezers to investigate the tiny processes that power the universe. They can grab bacteria without harming them, for instance, allowing Ashkin and other scientists to investigate what the committee called the “machinery of life”.

Mourou and Strickland allowed mankind to create the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever seen. With a technique called chirped pulse amplification, or CPA, they allowed for high-intensity lasers, of the kind that are used today millions of times to carry out corrective eye surgeries.

Their discoveries also laid the foundation for the work done by Ashkin. And the full implications of their work have still not yet been found.

“The innumerable areas of application have not yet been completely explored,” the committee wrote. “However, even now these celebrated inventions allow us to rummage around in the microworld in the best spirit of Alfred Nobel – for the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Strickland is the first woman to be named a Nobel laureate since 2015. She is also only the third to have won the physics prize, with the first being Marie Curie in 1903.

12 incredible women you’ve never heard of who changed science forever.


Sure, most people have heard of Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, Jane Goodall and Sally Ride.

But for every female scientist whose work has been recognized and celebrated, there are thousands who have been accidentally or purposefully forgotten.

For a few, that might change, thanks to a beautiful new book, “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World,” by artist Rachel Ignotofsky.

While she highlights some of the classic women in science, she’s also profiled some less familiar faces – and discoveries.

Here are a dozen of our favorites.

Meghan Bartels wrote an earlier version of this post.


Florence Bascom: Helped us understand how mountains form

Florence Bascom (1862-1945) discovered her love for geology on a childhood trip with her father and a geologist friend of his.

She worked for the US Geographical Survey, particularly specializing in the Piedmont Plateau between the Appalachians and the Atlantic coastal plain. She was voted one of the top 100 geologists in 1906 in an edition of a magazine called, ironically, American Men of Science.

In addition to her research, she also taught several important geologists of the next generation at Bryn Mawr College.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Championed the ecological importance of The Everglades

President Clinton talks with Marjory Stoneman Douglas after presenting her with a Medal of Freedom.
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Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) moved to Miami to write for the Herald, where her father worked. She left to work for the Red Cross during World War I, then returned to the Herald before branching out on her own as a writer.

She was able to see the value and importance of the Everglades despite finding them “too buggy, too wet, too generally inhospitable.” She wrote a book called “The Everglades: Rivers of Grass,” which raised awareness about the threats the ecosystem faced.

She successfully led the opposition to an Army Corps of Engineers planthat would have reduced flooding but destroyed the Everglades. In addition to conservation, she also fought for women’s rights and racial justice.


Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: Figured out what the Sun was made of

Celia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979) was the astronomer who discovered that the sun is made of hydrogen and helium.

She went to college in Britain for botany, then attended by chance a lecture given by a prominent physicist, which she found so intriguing she changed fields (the lecturer, Arthur Eddington, became an important mentor for her). She moved across the Atlantic to study at Harvard, where she spent the rest of her career.

Her dissertation was called “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.” In addition to our sun, she also studied variable stars, taking more than a million photographs of them with her team.


Rita Levi-Montalcini: Made a breakthrough in understanding the nervous system

Rita Levi-Montalcini celebrating her one hundredth birthday in Rome.
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Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) was the first Nobel Prize winner to reach the age of 100. Born in Italy, she talked her father into letting her study medicine.

During the Jewish persecution and World War II, she had to leave her university and eventually flee to the countryside with her family, but she kept working on science, dissecting chick embryos.

After the war, she moved to the US, where she discovered nerve growth factor, which guides the development of the nervous system. She later became an Italian senator for life.


Chien-Shiung Wu: Helped figure out how to enrich uranium

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) grew up in China, then moved to the US for her PhD studies.

She was recruited by the Manhattan Project during World War II. During her interview for the top-secret work, she was able to guess what they were researching from an equation left on a blackboard.

She helped figure out how to enrich uranium to fuel nuclear bombs. She was snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee for her work showing that nature isn’t always symmetrical. (The Prize was awarded to two men who first floated the idea, even though she was the one who proved itexperimentally.)


Katherine Johnson: Calculated Apollo 11’s flight path to the moon

President Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Katherine Johnson.
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Katherine Johnson (1918- ) did the math that launched the manned Mercury mission into orbit around the Earth and calculated the flight path for the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon.

She also helped write the first textbook about space.

As a child, she loved to count – and from that springboard she graduated college at 18 and spent three decades at NASA.


Rosalyn Yalow: Developed a technique that tests for diabetes, birth defects, and more

Rosalyn Yalow (1921-2011) spent most of her life in New York City. She and her lab partner developed a technique for studying hormones that is still used today, called radioimmunoassay.

They used the process to differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It can also determine whether an unborn child has certain birth defects and to make sure the supplies in blood banks are clean.


Esther Lederberg: Discovered that bacteria mutate randomly

Esther Lederberg (1922-2006) studied bacteria and viruses, helping her work by inventing a technique called replica plating, which made it easy to study certain bacterial colonies across a set of Petri dishes.

The technique contributed to a Nobel Prize for her husband.

From this work, she confirmed that bacteria mutate randomly, including acquiring resistance to particular antibiotics before ever having been exposed to that particular chemical.

She also discovered a type of virus called a lambda phage, which lies low in a cell until the cell is going to die from other causes. It’s now used as a model for human viruses like herpes and tumor viruses.


Annie Easley: Helped write the code behind the Centaur rocket system

Annie Easley (1933-2011) planned to become a nurse, but was inspired to work for the precursor of NASA when she read an article about local twin sisters who worked there as human computers.

She became first a mathematician and then a computer programmer, working particularly on the code for the Centaur rocket launcher and navigation system.

She also tutored inner-city children (she had previously helped neighbors learn to pass Jim Crow voting tests) and worked on energy issues.


Patricia Bath: Invented a device that removes cataracts

A recent science fair presentation about Patricia Bath.

Patricia Bath (1942- ) invented a device for removing cataracts that fog people’s vision.

She also created the field of community ophthamology, which combines public health outreach with ophthamology. The strategy reduces rates of preventable vision loss, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods.

The organization she founded, the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, provides vitamin A eye drops to newborns.


May-Britt Moser: Discovered how our brains make mental maps

May-Britt Moser talked with Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf at the Nobel banquet in 2014.
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May-Britt Moser (1963- ) helped discover grid cells, special nerve cells in the brain that create mental maps of places we’ve been – work that won the Nobel Prize.

As a psychologist in Norway, she began studying the brains of rats, particularly as they completed mazes. She has also studied how the brain filters out unnecessary information to focus on particular issues and what happens when your brain thinks you’re somewhere you aren’t.

May-Britt Moser


Francoise Barre-Sinoussi: Helped determine the cause of AIDS

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi (1947- ) is a French scientist who helped discover HIV and determine that the virus causes AIDS.

She had been studying retroviruses and was asked to join a team looking to determine whether AIDS was caused by one (it is, as she determined in two weeks).

She then researched how the immune system responds to HIV and AIDS in hopes of finding a cure. Although she retired last year, she is still outspoken in encouraging the world to rally against AIDS and fight the stigma surrounding the disease.


And so many more …

Tech Insider learned about all of these women from Rachel Ignotofsky’s beautiful book, “Women in Science,” which features full profiles of 50 scientists, plus tidbits on women in science more generally – not to mention gorgeous illustrations.

She also compiled a great list of resources for learning more about any of these scientists.

Source:businessinsider.com

 

28 Nikola Tesla quotes to make you think


Nikola Tesla is often called the man who invented the 20th century, and there are lots of good reasons for that. He has become as famous, although at a later point, as many of his contemporaries, like Marie Curie and Albert Einstein.

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Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor, engineer, and physicist, who is most well known for his invention of the modern generation of alternating current electrical power.

He emigrated to the United States in 1884 to work with Thomas Edison in New York City, but with his own financial backers, he was able to begin his own projects.

In the end, he died alone in the New Yorker Hotel of a coronary thrombosis. Recently, there has been a renewed popular interest in his life. Here are some of his quotes that we think will help challenge your ideas about science and the world at large.

1. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born. – American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 by Thomas P. Hughes (2004)

2. Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine. – A Visit to Nikola Tesla, by Dragislav L. Petkoviæ in Politika (April 1927)

3. In the twenty-first century, the robot will take the place which slave labor occupied in ancient civilization. – A Machine to End War, Liberty, February, 1937

4. Fights between individuals, as well as governments and nations, invariably result from misunderstandings in the broadest interpretation of this term. Misunderstandings are always caused by the inability of appreciating one another’s point of view. – The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace, in Electrical World and Engineer (January 7, 1905)

5. The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way. He lives and labors and hopes. – The Problem of Increasing Human Energy (The Century Magazine, June, 1900)

6. Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment. – My Inventions, in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)

7. The desire that guides me in all I do is the desire to harness the forces of nature to the service of mankind. – Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World (Modern Mechanix & Inventions, July, 1934)

8. Every living being is an engine geared to the wheelwork of the universe. Though seemingly affected only by its immediate surrounding, the sphere of external influence extends to infinite distance. – (Did the War Cause the Italian Earthquake) New York American, February 7, 1915

9. The last 29 days of the month are the toughest! – My Inventions, in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)

10. The individual is ephemeral, races and nations come and pass away, but man remains. Therein lies the profound difference between the individual and the whole. – The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, in Century Illustrated Magazine (June 1900)

11. Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them. – The Problem of Increasing Human Energy in Century Illustrated Magazine (June 1900)

12. I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything. – In Cleveland Moffitt, “A Talk With Tesla”, Atlanta Constitution (7 Jun 1896)

13. The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire; first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power. – What Science May Achieve This Year, Denver Rocky Mountain News, January 16th, 1910

14. Of all the frictional resistances, the one that most retards human movement is ignorance, what Buddha called ‘the greatest evil in the world’. – The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, in Century Illustrated Magazine (June 1900)

15. Our senses enable us to perceive only a minute portion of the outside world. – The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace in Electrical World and Engineer (January 7, 1905)

16. Three possible solutions of the great problem of increasing human energy are answered by the three words: food, peace, work. – The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, in Century Illustrated Magazine (June 1900)

17. Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more. – The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, in Century Illustrated Magazine (June 1900)

18. Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life. – A Visit to Nikola Tesla, by Dragislav L. Petkoviæ in Politika (April 1927)

19. This planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric currents virtually no more than a small metal ball. – The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires (Electrical World & Engineer, March 5, 1904)

20. Instinct is something which transcends knowledge. We have, undoubtedly, certain finer fibers that enable us to perceive truths when logical deduction, or any other willful effort of the brain, is futile. – My Inventions, in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)

21. The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane. – Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World in Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934)

22. It is paradoxical, yet true, to say, that the more we know, the more ignorant we become in the absolute sense, for it is only through enlightenment that we become conscious of our limitations. Precisely one of the most gratifying results of intellectual evolution is the continuous opening up of new and greater prospects. – The Wonder World To Be Created By Electricity, Manufacturer’s Record, September 9, 1915

23. Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs. – My Inventions, in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)

24. Throughout space there is energy. Is this energy static or kinetic! If static our hopes are in vain; if kinetic — and this we know it is, for certain — then it is a mere question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature. – Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency (February 1892)

25. The progressive development of man is vitally dependent on invention. – My Inventions, in Electrical Experimenter magazine (1919)

26. Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors. – A Machine to End War, Liberty, February, 1937

27. The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.

28. Today’s scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality. – Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World in Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934)

Don’t Heed the Haters: Albert Einstein’s Wonderful Letter of Support to Marie Curie in the Midst of Scandal


“If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.”

Don’t Heed the Haters: Albert Einstein’s Wonderful Letter of Support to Marie Curie in the Midst of Scandal

Few things are more disheartening to witness than the bile which small-spirited people of inferior talent often direct at those endowed with genius. And few things are more heartening to witness than the solidarity and support which kindred spirits of goodwill extend to those targeted by such loathsome attacks.

In 1903, Marie Curie (November 7, 1867–July 4, 1934) became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. It was awarded jointly to her and her husband, Pierre, for their pioneering research on radioactivity. On April 19, 1906, she was widowed by an accident all the more tragic for its improbability. While crossing a busy Parisian street on a rainy night, Pierre slipped, fell under a horse-drawn cart, and was killed instantly. Curie grieved for years. In 1910, she found solace in Pierre’s protégé — a young physics professor named Paul Langevin, married to but separated from a woman who physically abused him. They became lovers. Enraged, Langevin’s wife hired someone to break into the apartment where the two met and steal their love letters, which she promptly leaked to the so-called press. The press eviscerated Curie and portrayed her as “a foreign Jewish homewrecker.”

Upon returning from a historic invitation-only science conference in Brussels, where she had met Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879–April 18 1955), Curie found an angry mob in front of her home in Paris. She and her daughters were forced to stay with a family friend.

At the 1911 Solvay Conference. Curie leaning on table. Einstein second from right. Also in attendance: Max Planck, Henri Poincaré, and Ernest Rutherford.
At the 1911 Solvay Conference. Curie leaning on table. Einstein second from right. Also in attendance: Max Planck, Henri Poincaré, and Ernest Rutherford.

Einstein considered Curie “an unpretentious honest person” with a “sparkling intelligence.” When he got news of the scandal, he was outraged by the tastelessness and cruelty of the press — the tabloids had stripped a private situation of all humanity and nuance, and brought it into the public realm with the deliberate intention of destroying Curie’s scientific reputation.

A master of beautiful consolatory letters and a champion of kindness as a central animating motive of life, Einstein wrote to Curie with wholehearted solidarity and support, encouraging her not to give any credence to the hateful commentaries in the press. The letter, found in Walter Isaacson’s terrific biography Einstein: His Life and Universe (public library), is a testament to the generosity of spirit that accompanied Einstein’s unparalleled intellect — a masterwork of what he himself termed “spiritual genius.”

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Einstein, who would later remark that “Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted,” writes:

Highly esteemed Mrs. Curie,

Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say. But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling. However, I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble, whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism! I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels. Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact. If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.

With most amicable regards to you, Langevin, and Perrin, yours very truly,

A. Einstein

Shortly after the scandal, Curie received her second Nobel Prize — this time in chemistry, for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. To this day the only person awarded a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, she endures as one of humanity’s most visionary and beloved minds. The journalists who showered her with bile are known to none and deplored by all.

Complement with Kierkegaard on why haters hate and Anne Lamott’s definitive manifesto for how to handle them, then revisit Mark Twain’s witty and wise letter of support to Helen Keller when she was wrongly accused of plagiarism and Frida Kahlo’s compassionate letter to Georgia O’Keeffe after the American painter was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown.