Optical Society Mourns Passing of Nobel Laureate Arthur Ashkin

Winner of 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics Pioneered Work to Create Optical Tweezers

WASHINGTON – The Optical Society (OSA) is deeply saddened by the passing of Nobel Laureate and OSA Honorary Member Arthur Ashkin, known for his extraordinary accomplishments in optical trapping. Ashkin shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics with Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou for groundbreaking discoveries in laser physics.

The inventor of optical tweezers, Ashkin’s work led to the manipulation of particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with laser fields. The tool allows laser light to push and hold small particles at the center of a beam. Using radiation pressure of light to move physical objects, Ashkin laid the foundation for studying diseases in the human body. The technique led to the development of a malaria blood test and cholesterol-lowering drugs that soften red blood cells, among many other medical advancements.

“Arthur Ashkin’s achievements in optical trapping are unparalleled,” said 2020 OSA President Steve Fantone. “His discoveries have significantly advanced biophysical research resulting in manipulations of tiny biological systems. We owe him a debt of gratitude for realizing his dream of cooling and trapping individual atoms using only light.”

In 2009, Ashkin was named an Honorary Member of The Optical Society (OSA). He was also elected fellow of OSA, APS, IEEE and AAAS. In addition to the Nobel Prize, awards and honors recognizing his scientific contributions include election to the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, OSA’s Frederick Ives Medal/Jarus W. Quinn Endowment, Charles Hard Townes Award, APS’s Joseph F. Keithley Award For Advances in Measurement Science, the Rank Prize in Opto-Electronics, the IEEE Photonics Society’s Quantum Electronics Award, and the Harvey Prize for physics. Ashkin is the author of Optical Trapping and Manipulation of Neutral Particles Using Lasers, and holds 47 patents.

Ashkin received a B.A. in physics from Columbia College in 1947 and a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Cornell University in 1952. Ashkin worked at the Columbia Radiation Lab from 1942 to 1945 while in the Army and at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1952 to 1991. At Bell Labs, Ashkin researched microwaves, nonlinear optics, and laser trapping. In collaboration with colleagues, he made the first observation of continuous wave (cw) laser harmonic generation, cw parametric amplification, discovered the photorefractive effect, and initiated the field of nonlinear optics in optical fibers.

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