Gérard Mourou, 2018 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics

After receiving the prestigious French Legion of Honour award in 2012, the Frederic Ives medal in 2016 from the Optical Society of America, and the Arthur L. Schawlow award in Laser Science from the American Physical Society, Gérard Mourou received the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics on October 2, the crowning achievement of a career entirely dedicated to lasers and Physics.

He shares this award with Donna Strickland (Canadian), for having jointly developed a method for generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. Arthur Ashkin (American) also receives the Prize for the invention of optical tweezers and their application to biological systems. The Swedish Academy particularly highlighted the use of these two techniques in the medical field.

Nobel Prize Winners

Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland have been honoured for their achievements in the field of optical physics. 

Gérard Mourou is the co-inventor, with his student, Donna Strickland, of the Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) technique (thirty years ago).  This technique made possible the amplification of short laser pulses (approx. 10-15 second) to extremely high peak power, equal to petawatt (1015 watt). The principle: temporarily spread an ultra-short pulse by means of an optical network in order to reduce its actual intensity before magnifying it. The pulse is then recompressed to reach intensities a conventional amplification would not make it possible to reach.

The CPA technique revolutionized the laser science field and found new applications in different branches of Physics, including nuclear and particle physics. Adapted to the medical field, it has led to new advances in refractive eye surgery and the treatment of cataracts.

Gérard Mourou spent a great deal of his career in the United States, in particular at the University of Michigan. Upon his return in France in 2005, he was in charge of the Applied Optics Laboratory (LOA – a joint laboratory between ENSTA ParsiTech, the CNRS, and École Polytechnique) until 2008. He initiated three major projects in the realm of high-powered lasers: the launch of the XCAN project at École Polytechnique, the Apollon laser in France, located in the Saclay region (the French scientific and industrial cluster) and the large, European infrastructure ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure) that will host the world’s largest lasers in Hungary, Romania, and Czech Republic.  He is also director of the International Center for Zetta-Exawatt Science and Technology (IZEST), affiliated with more than 27 laboratories around the world, which works to anticipate the future of high-powered lasers.