Nobel prize winner Donna Strickland on how her life has changed
CTVNews.ca Staff , with a report from CTV’s Kevin Gallagher in Ottawa
Published Friday, January 18, 2019 10:47PM EST
Canadian physicist Donna Strickland used to have a quiet life. Not anymore.
On Oct. 2, the professor from Guelph, Ont., was awakened by a phone call informing her she would receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on chirped pulse amplification.
Before that life-changing call, Strickland says she spent a lot of time in her lab at the University of Waterloo.
“My students now have to schedule a time to see me,” she said. “We travel a lot,” she added. “I’m scheduled up to 2020 with speaking engagements.”
On Friday, Strickland sat for an interview with CTV’s Kevin Gallagher at the National Research Council in Ottawa, where she worked early in her career.
“People are paying a little bit more attention to me,” she told him. “I've been back before and got to fly under the radar.”
She’s also getting used to being a role model for strangers. Strickland is the first Canadian and third woman in history to receive the prize.
“I hadn’t really been paying attention so I hadn’t noticed that it had only been two women before me,” she said.
“I’ve had a number of women come and tell me that I’m representing them and that they all feel like they got a piece of this prize too,” she added.
“I'm happy to share it with every Canadian woman, every woman. I'll share it with anybody.”
Strickland said she never imagined when she was finishing her PhD at the University of Rochester in the 1980s that she’d one day be so famous.
But physicist Paul Corkum, who was her mentor at the NRC, says that the impact she was making on the field was already clear.
“I knew it even before she walked through the door,” he said.
The paper that won Strickland the prize was written with her PhD supervisor, Gerard Mourou, in 1985. They developed a way to increase laser beam intensity without ripping the laser apart. The work has since been applied to everything from laser eye surgery to creating tiny glass parts for cellphones.
Strickland says the applications weren’t clear at the time. “We were trying to make something happen that hadn’t happened before.”