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Gérard Mourou, 2018 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics

Professor and member of the Haut-collège of École Polytechnique, Gérard Mourou, has been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. He shares this award with Donna Strickland for developping a method for generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. The Swedish Academy particularly highlighted the use of this technique in the medical field.

After receiving the prestigious French Legion of Honour award in 2012, the Frederic Ives medal in 2016 from the Optical Society of America, and the Arthur L. Schawlow award in Laser Science from the American Physical Society, Gérard Mourou received today the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, the crowning achievement of a career entirely dedicated to laser physics and their applications. He shares this award with Donna Strickland (Canadian), for having jointly developed a method for generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. Arthur Ashkin (American) also receives the Prize for the invention of optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.

Gérard Mourou is the co-inventor, joint work with Donna Strickland, of the Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) technique (thirty years ago).  This technique rendered possible the amplification of short laser pulses (a few dozen femtoseconds; 1fs = 10^(-15) s) up to extremely high peak powers, equal to a petawatt (1PW = 10^(15)W) or even more. The principle: temporarily spread an ultra-short pulse by means of an optical network in order to reduce its actual intensity before magnifying it. The pulse is then recompressed to reach intensities a conventional amplification would not make it possible to reach.

The CPA technique revolutionized the field of laser science and found new applications in different branches of Physics, including nuclear and particle physics. Adapted to the medical field, it has led to new advances in refractive eye surgery and the treatment of cataracts.

Gérard Mourou spent a large part of his career in the United States, in particular at the University of Michigan. Upon his return in France in 2005, he was in charge of the Applied Optics Laboratory (LOA – a joint laboratory between ENSTA ParsiTech, the CNRS, and École Polytechnique) until 2008. He initiated three major projects in the realm of high-power lasers: the launch of the XCAN project at École Polytechnique, the Apollon laser, located in the Saclay plateau (the French scientific and industrial cluster) and the Large European infrastructure ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure) that will host the world’s largest lasers in Hungary, Romania, and Czech Republic.  He is currently field director of the International Center for Zetta-Exawatt Science and Technology (IZEST), affiliated with more than 27 laboratories around the world who work together in order to best anticipate the future of high-power lasers.

Eric Labaye, President of École Polytechnique, stated: “We are honored to see one of the highest scientific distinctions be awarded to our colleague Gérard Mourou. This prize demonstrates once again the quality and excellence of the research carried out at École Polytechnique. Gérard Mourou is clearly one of the outstanding innovators in laser research and technology worldwide, and undoubtedly deserves this remarkable recognition for his contributions.