Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963), and now Donna Strickland (2018), are the three Nobel laureates in physics who also happen to be female.

Donna Strickland © Nobel Media AB 2018

The name Marie Curie rang with a kind of magic when I was a starry-eyed, impressionable science student. A woman  wizard! A woman scientist, who changed the world! An all-round heroine!

Maybe kids of the future, listening for music in the spheres, will think about Donna Strickland with the same sense of awe.

Canadian Strickland shares the 2018 Nobel award for physics with her former professor Gérard Mourou of France, and American physicist Arthur Ashkin.

For their work revolutionizing laser physics – enabling “tools made of light” – they join the celebrated ranks of Nobel prize laureates. And Strickland, who now leads research at the University of Waterloo in ultrafast lasers, joins the tiny, tiny, tiny cohort of women who have won the Nobel in physics.

I want to think we’ve moved past the time when every female accomplishment in a “man’s world” begs applause. Generally I think we should refrain from smarmy and counter-productive cheering that highlights gender instead of accomplishment. And yet especially this year, everywhere around us, gender trumps evidence, sex dwarfs discourse, offence is given – and rightly taken. An example from science: even as the Nobels were being announced, news broke of a (since-suspended) male scientist at Cern who cited sloppy discredited social research to claim “physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation.” The idea that Curie, Goeppert-Mayer, or Strickland might need an invitation, especially from the likes of such a clown, is laughable – and yet women needed a win just now.

And so, a loud and rousing cheer to you, Donna Strickland.

Nerdy kids everywhere will take note.



Categories: Free Range


Curious free range human. Creative writer, journalist, photographer