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A female physicist wins the Nobel Prize for just the third time in 117 Years

Since 1901, when the annual Nobel Prize in Physics was first awarded, it has been given almost exclusively to men. That changed this week, when the number rose to three. Donna Strickland, a Canadian who is an associate professor of physics at the University of Waterloo, received the prize on Tuesday for her work on high-intensity laser pulses. That work resulted in Dr. Strickland’s first published scientific paper in 1985, and she went on to base her doctoral dissertation on it. At the time, scientists had been trying to figure out how to amplify high-energy laser pulses without destroying the amplifiers. Dr. Strickland suggested stretching out the pulses in time, amplifying them and then compressing them again to the desired level of intensity. Their method, known as chirped pulse amplification, allowed for more precision in laser technology and has allowed for several real-world applications, including Lasik eye surgery.

Dr. Strickland said that her work depended in part on the work of the two women who won the Nobel Prize in Physics before her.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win the prize in 1903, for the discovery of radioactivity. (Eight years later, she also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work on isolating pure radium.) The second was Maria Goeppert Mayer, who won in 1963 for developing a model that could predict the properties of atomic nuclei. But for 54 years after that, only men won the Nobel Prize in Physics. And only a handful of women won the prize in either of the other two scientific categories: chemistry and physiology or medicine. Last year, the nine people who won Nobel Prizes in all three of the scientific categories were men from Western countries.

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