Professor Donna Strickland’s name is in the news for receiving a coveted prize. However, it also comes at a time when the culture of the scientific community is under scrutiny for being biased and sexist. Not to diminish Professor Strickland’s accomplishments, but rather celebrate and encourage brilliant minds inspired by her. Time to change this culture, too!

Only the famous scientist Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer, a nuclear physicist, have won the prize. Curie won in 1903 for her discovery of radioactivity, and Goeppert Mayer in 1963 for theoretical work on the structure of the atomic nucleus.

Strickland’s work with Mourou was critical to making lasers the powerful instruments we use today, says Margaret Murnane a physicist at JILA in Boulder who specializes in laser science. The technique is known as chirped pulse amplification, and Murnane says “it really was a key enabling discovery that really allows us to use all the power of laser light.”

The technology has already been used for eye surgery and laser cutting, Murnane says. In the future may even be the basis for particle accelerators.

Strickland having “fun in the lab.” She loved her “work!”

Christin Wiedemann, a former physicist and past president of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, said she’s extremely happy for Strickland on her “well-deserved” win. At the same time, she said, the victory highlights longstanding problems with the Nobel system. “It was a stark reminder that it’s been 55 years, and I have a hard time imagining there haven’t been women worthy of the prize in those 55 years.”

Forty-eight women have been awarded a Nobel Prize from 1901 to 2017, compared with 892 men. (With regard to the 2018 tally, there are still a few more prizes in other areas being announced.)

For the many women who have been passed over for their contributions in science, the Nobel Prize is not given posthumously. One example is Vera Rubin, a physicist who pioneered the study of dark matter, the invisible substance that scientists believe makes up about a quarter of the universe. Rubin was a longtime favorite to win the physics prize for her work, which was mostly conducted in the 1970s and ’80s. She died in late 2016. She had applied to Princeton for post graduate studies, but it was another 27 years before they accepted women astrology students.

Culture. We are who decide this. We have the power to change this. We, together, will bring women to an equal playing field. But only if we make our own decisions and not let dictates keep us squelched, bedraggled in the muck. It takes more than a village. Use your power and Vote in November. 

The Nobel Prize in Physics: 117 Years, 3 Women and Counting
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