Earlier this month, Prof. Donna Strickland, along with two other physicists, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work with lasers. She is the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in over 100 years of it being awarded. (Irene Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, though she was primarily a physicist by profession by our modern standards.) Let's take this opportunity to look back at these three women (and hope that this list gets longer soon!)
Marie Skłodowska Curie is perhaps the best known woman in the history of physics. She shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their research on radiation. She later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, for her work on radium and polonium.
Maria Goeppert-Mayer won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her development of the nuclear shell model, sharing the prize with Eugene Wigner and Hans Jensen. Her work provided the first clear explanation for the stability or instability of different atomic nuclei, by showing that the nucleus could be modeled as a series of shells of nucleons with coupled spins. She is the only woman to win the prize for theoretical rather than experimental work.
This year, 2018, Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her development of chirped pulse amplification in lasers. This is the method used in most modern high-powered laser research installations to increase the energy available in ultrashort bursts.
This is an appallingly short list for over a century of work, and provides an excellent opportunity to talk with our classes about the history of physics and about the challenges and discrimination women still face in our field. Consider: What can we as scientists and educators do to make our field more welcoming and inclusive?
UMD Women in Physics https://www.physics.umd.edu/wip/
APS Women in Physics https://www.aps.org/programs/women/
The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1903/summary/
The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1963/summary/
The Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018 https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2018/summary/
Nature: Donna Strickland on her work and on the under-representation of women in physics https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06995-w
Particles for Justice https://www.particlesforjustice.org/