LEAD: How does it feel to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics – particularly knowing that you’re only the third female winner of the award in the history of the prize?
DS: This is a very special honour. I have been put in the history books along with Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer and that is quite amazing to me as they are trail blazers.
LEAD: Tell us about your discoveries in laser physics and why they are so important
DS: We came up with a way to increase the intensity of a laser by many orders of magnitude. These lasers are now used extensively worldwide for commercial applications as well as pushing the scientific frontiers of ever-shorter pulses and higher intensities.
LEAD: Tell us a little more about your career
DS: I chose to study lasers as an undergrad at McMaster University. My first laser project was with Brian Garside. From there I went to grad school at the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester and got to do my PhD with Gérard Mourou. Working with Gérard was my big break as he was a pioneer in the field of ultrafast lasers and he was always thinking up new fantastic science ideas to try out.
LEAD: Why do you think more women haven’t won the prize?
DS: I don’t know why more women haven’t won the prize. I have had many women write me and say that my winning the Nobel Prize has been inspiring to them so I am grateful that they see me as a role model.
LEAD: What do you think is needed to encourage more women into the sciences?
DS: Many parents push their children into careers such as medicine because these careers are held in high esteem by society. The majority of medical students in the United States are now women and so I think more women would go into physics if physics careers were equally valued.
LEAD: Finally, have you got any words of advice for women wanting to forge careers in physics?
DS: Getting a PhD in physics can be fun but it is also very hard work. If you love physics – go for it.
Donna Strickland is a Canadian optical physicist and pioneer in the field of pulsed lasers. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018, together with Gérard Mourou, for the invention of chirped pulse amplification. She is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo.