The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018
Born: 2 September 1922, New York, NY, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Bell Laboratories, Holmdel, NJ, USA
Prize motivation: "for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems."
Prize share: 1/2
Arthur Ashkin was born in Brooklyn, New York, into a family with a Ukrainian-Jewish background. He studied physics at Columbia University in New York City and continued his education at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, obtaining his PhD in 1952. He then started working at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, where he remained the rest of his career and did his Nobel Prize awarded work.
The sharp beams of laser light have given us new opportunities for deepening our knowledge about the world and shaping it. Arthur Ashkin invented optical tweezers that grab particles, atoms, molecules, and living cells with their laser beam fingers. The tweezers use laser light to push small particles towards the center of the beam and to hold them there. In 1987, Ashkin succeeded in capturing living bacteria without harming them. Optical tweezers are now widely used to investigate biological systems.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.