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The NSERC Donna Strickland Prize for Societal Impact of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research

About the scientist

On the morning of October 2, 2018, Dr. Donna Strickland received a phone call that researchers dream of, but never expect: she had been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for her research in chirped-pulse amplification. She shared this honour with her graduate supervisor, Dr. Gerard Mourou (University of Michigan), and Dr. Arthur Ashkin (Bell Laboratories).

Dr. Strickland was born on 27 May 1959, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree from McMaster University and a PhD in optics from the University of Rochester in New York State. It was at the University of Rochester where she undertook her Nobel Prize-winning work with Dr. Mourou, discovering a method to create ultrashort, extremely high-energy laser pulses that radically transformed the use of lasers.

After graduation, Dr. Strickland was appointed as a Research Associate at the National Research Council of Canada, and later worked as a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and as a member of the technical staff at Princeton University.

In 1997, Dr. Strickland joined the University of Waterloo as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, where she quickly established an ultrafast laser research group focused on the development of high-intensity laser systems for nonlinear optics. 

Over the course of her career, Dr. Strickland received several awards including the Sloan Research Fellowship, Premier’s Research Excellence Award, the Cottrell Scholar Award, and the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement. She is a fellow of The Optical Society, the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Society (United Kingdom), and SPIE (International Society for Optics and Photonics). As well, she is an honorary fellow of both the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Physics, and an international member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Today Dr. Strickland is a full professor at the University of Waterloo. She is the first Canadian woman and the third woman ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics. Her discovery of chirped pulse amplification has profoundly impacted how we use lasers in health care and materials development, and how we understand fundamental physics. Industrial and medical applications of this discovery include cancer treatment, laser eye surgery, the precise machining of materials like the cover glass in smartphones, and ultrafast imaging of molecular processes.

Beyond her outstanding research contributions and societal impacts, Dr. Strickland continues to be recognized for her leadership and passion encouraging young people to enter STEM disciplines and pursue research careers.

The information in this backgrounder was largely drawn from University of Waterloo and Nobel Prize announcements and profiles.