Gérard Mourou

Interview

Interview, December 2018

Interview with Physics Laureate Gérard Mourou on 6 December 2018 during the Nobel Week in Stockholm, Sweden.

Transcript of the interview

Gérard Mourou answers the following questions (the links below lead to clip on YouTube):
0:18 – What are the benefits of working in an international setting?
1:00 – Where does your passion for science come from
1:38 – How did it feel to discover you had been awarded the Nobel Prize?
3:16 – How relevant has persistence been to your career?
5:25 – Are environmental issues close to your heart?
6:45 – What responsibilities do scientists have to the environment?
8:12 – What is the scope for future applications of lasers?
9:26 – What is your advice for young scientists?
10:24 – Besides passion, what are the qualities top scientists need to have?
10:51 – What do you do in your spare time?
11:42 – When swimming, you aren’t thinking about your research?
12:20 – Who inspired you in the beginning of your journey?
13:16 – What do you enjoy about working with graduate students?
14:29 – How has your research been applied over the years?
17:20 – Can you summarise your discovery in 30 seconds?


Nobel Minds 2018

The 2018 Nobel Laureates met in Grünewalds Hall at Konserthuset Stockholm on 12 December 2018 for the traditional round-table discussion and TV program ‘Nobel Minds’. The discussion was hosted by the BBC’s Zeinab Badawi. The laureates talked about their research, discoveries and achievements and how these might find a practical application.


Telephone interview, October 2018

“It’s an amazing moment. Nobody is prepared for that kind of moment”

Telephone interview with Gérard Mourou following the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, 2 October 2018. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.

Interview transcript

Gérard Mourou: Hello.

Adam Smith: Hello, my name is Adam Smith from Nobelprize.org.

GM: Yes.

AS: Yes. Many congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.

GM: Thank you very much.

AS: It must be … it must be an amazing environment.

GM: It’s an amazing moment, I tell you. And nobody’s prepared for that kind of moment.

AS: I must say it sounds quite calm around you now.

GM: Yeah.

AS: In the background it sounds calm.

GM: The background, yeah, because I’ve been put in a room, you know, so nobody can bother me.

AS: Going back to that breakthrough in 1985, was there a eureka moment when you suddenly realised how you could improve the pulse length, shorten the pulse length?

GM: It came you know in different steps, in different steps, and in fact it came very, very kind of naturally with what I was doing. So we wanted to amplify very, very short pulses, you know, in order to get more peak power. OK, because, you know power is energy divided by time, and so if you want to get large power, big power, then you try to get pulses shorter and shorter and shorter, OK. So trying to do that, you know, so when you amplify your pulse, come to a point where, you know, material is breaking down on the laser.

AS: Yes, so you have to reduce the power somehow.

GM: You have to reduce the power but not change the energy, right, I mean you have to reduce the power without changing the energy, without changing the total energy of the pulse, OK, because you want to do that efficiently. So, you know I just came say well maybe we can stretch the pulse, stretch the pulse, and we knew how to do that because we were working on, recently on very short pulses, and you knew how to stretch pulses by using diffraction gradings and so on. So we stretched the pulse, and of course immediately the peak power decreased and then we could amplify the pulse much better, much much better. And, and then we had to compress it back. So again, again you know, by steps, you know.

AS: Yes, and what … give me an example of one of the most exciting things we can do with these ultrafast lasers.

GM: Well, what we can do is to accelerate particles. We can accelerate particles with really stunning efficiency, so instead of using kilometres to accelerate particles, right, like at CERN, you know, we could use a system with lasers which will already only take centimetres.

AS: Indeed, indeed.

GM: And, you know accelerators have a lot of applications, you know, in the medical world, OK, because you want to create for example therapy, OK, therapy you [unclear] maybe use maybe radio isotopes, you know, but every time when you want to do that you have, you know, you have sometimes to go outside, so this radio isotope, for instance, are made, you know, by reactors which are far away, and so on, so it’s difficult to bring them back at the patient’s bed.

AS: Yes.

GM: But now if you really make this accelerator very compact you can put that then in hospitals, and because they are compact, you know, you can multiply them, you know, and you can have one per hospital.

AS: Powerfully described. It’s a most lovely example of such a successful interaction between basic science and applied science. The whole development …

GM: Oh absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, yep.

AS: And how utterly co-dependent they are – you cannot do it without the basic research.

GM: Yeah.

AS: Yeah, and it’s so exciting that you’ve been awarded together with your graduate student.

GM: That too, yes, yes, yes. You know, when I proposed this idea to Donna Strickland she said: ‘Well that’s so simple, you know, this is not a PhD’. You know … [Laughs]

AS: Well …

GM: No, it’s not a PhD, it’s Nobel Prize material!

AS: I don’t know of another example where somebody’s first published scientific paper leads eventually to a Nobel Prize. That sets a pretty high standard for other graduate students to achieve.

GM: Yes. [Laughs]. Yes.

AS: Will we be welcoming you to Stockholm in December?

GM: Absolutely.
AS: Good, we very much look forward to it.

GM: Absolutely, of course.

AS: Thank you very much for speaking to me and congratulations.

GM: Thank you. Bye bye.

AS: Bye bye.

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To cite this section
MLA style: Gérard Mourou – Interview. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Fri. 10 Jul 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2018/mourou/interview/>

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