Generating High-Intensity, Ultrashort Optical Pulses
With the invention of lasers, the intensity of a light wave was increased by orders of magnitude over what had been achieved with a light bulb or sunlight. This much higher intensity led to new phenomena being observed, such as violet light coming out when red light went into the material. After Gérard Mourou and I developed chirped pulse amplification, also known as CPA, the intensity again increased by more than a factor of 1,000 and it once again made new types of interactions possible between light and matter. We developed a laser that could deliver short pulses of light that knocked the electrons off their atoms. This new understanding of laser-matter interactions, led to the development of new machining techniques that are used in laser eye surgery or micromachining of glass used in cell phones.
Donna Strickland is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo and is one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2018 for developing chirped pulse amplification with Gérard Mourou, her PhD supervisor at the time. They published this Nobel-winning research in 1985 when Strickland was a PhD student at the University of Rochester in New York state. Together they paved the way toward the most intense laser pulses ever created. The research has several applications today in industry and medicine — including the cutting of a patient’s cornea in laser eye surgery, and the machining of small glass parts for use in cell phones.