The Virginia Tech College of Science’s J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series returns March 10 as a virtual event with guest speaker Donna Strickland, a recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics and professor at the University of Waterloo.

This is the first time the lecture series is virtual, due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. The first 11 lectures were held in person on the Virginia Tech campus.

“It also marks the first time the College of Science has the honor of hosting a female Nobel Laureate for the lecture series,” said Giti Khodaparast, a professor in the Department of Physics, part of the College of Science.

The topic for March 10 will be “Generating High-Intensity, Ultrashort Optical Pulses.” Registration is required.

“This public lecture will be an inspiring event as we are celebrating women’s history month in March,” said Khodaparast, who is also an affiliated faculty member with the nanoscience and nanomedicine programs, both housed in the college’s Academy of Integrated Science.

Strickland is a professor with the University of Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. She co-won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for her work in developing chirped pulse laser amplification with Gérard Mourou, her Ph.D. supervisor at the time. They published the Nobel-winning research in 1985 when Strickland attended New York’s University of Rochester.

“Together Strickland and Mourou paved the way toward the most intense laser pulses ever created, helping revolutionize the field of laser physics,” Khodaparast said. According to Strickland’s biography, her work in lasers led to a wide variety of medical and tech breakthroughs, from cutting a patient’s cornea in laser eye surgery to the machining of small glass parts found in cell phones and tablets.

Khodaparast said “she has been using the laser amplification device in her lab for the past 16 years.” Numerous graduate and undergraduate students in her lab were trained using the invention.

Strickland become the third woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963).  

She was a research associate at the National Research Council Canada, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and a member of technical staff at Princeton University. In 1997, she joined the University of Waterloo, where her lab develops high-intensity laser systems for nonlinear optics investigations. 

Strickland was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. She is a recipient of a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Premier’s Research Excellence Award and a Cottrell Scholar Award. She received the Rochester Distinguished Scholar Award and the Eastman Medal from the University of Rochester.

Strickland is a Fellow of and has served as the president of the Optical Society Association, is a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and International Society for Optics and Photonics. She is an honorary Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering as well as the Institute of Physics. She received the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement and holds numerous honorary doctorates.

The J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series at the College of Science at Virginia Tech is a forum for the exchange of new and innovative ideas in scientific fields. Discussions have delved into brain sciences, speech and hearing development, black holes, and more.

Generously supported by Mark and Debi Sowers, this series provides opportunities for the university community and general public to interact with and learn from eminent scholars and industry experts. Sowers is a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and developer and longtime supporter of the College of Science. He sponsors the series to share with others his fascination with the sciences, in particular, the physical sciences.

Related story

Scientist David Reitze kicks off J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series