The Unacknowledged Brilliance of Dr. Donna Strickland, 2018 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics

Although she may not know it, Dr. Donna Strickland is not only the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, she is also a brilliant poet – however we may never read her work traditionally. Her commendation in physics is for her development of Chirped Pulse Amplification for lasers, which is essentially the stretching and compression of light across time:

The technique Strickland developed uses gratings in the laser system to separate the original laser pulse into its individual wavelength components. As a result, due to the differing optical paths for the spectrally separated beams, a temporal separation takes place. The high-frequency component of ultrashort laser pulses lags behind the low-frequency component – causing the pulse to be ‘positively chirped’. The stretching of the pulses in time then reduces the intensity, making it possible to amplify the pulses in the laser cavity without damaging the optics in the system. For the output, the amplified pulses are recompressed to their original length.

Although I haven’t fully worked this out yet on paper, it seems clear to me that what Dr. Strickland has done here is develop poetic techniques for light. Thinking somewhat abstractly, poetry is the compression of meaning-information-energy into very few syllables which can be read in a shorter time, and Chirped Pulse Amplification for lasers is the compression of light-energy into smaller timeframe-packages. The poetic equivalent to the optical system, the relevant limiting factor of compression in this situation, would be comprehension ability – simple aphorisms like “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” take entire papers on nutrition and compress them into something that even a five-year-old can remember.

First principles, but really abstract ones. Have fun thinking about the implications!