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Personalities

Ask me anything: Donna Strickland – ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I would win a Nobel prize’

14 Feb 2022 Laura Hiscott
Taken from the February 2022 issue of Physics World. Members of the Institute of Physics can enjoy the full issue via the Physics World app.

Donna Strickland is a professor and optical physicist at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. In 2018 she shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for her work developing the technique of “chirped pulse amplification”. This technique creates very short, high-energy laser pulses and has numerous applications across industry and medicine.

Donna Strickland
(Courtesy: University of Waterloo)

What skills do you use every day in your job?

I use writing skills every day. When I was back at my high school I didn’t try very hard in my English classes because I didn’t like it as much as I liked physics and maths, and yet I doubt there are very many jobs where writing doesn’t play a big role.

What do you like best and least about your job?

Certainly what I like best is going into the lab, working with the students and seeing something happen. That’s the name of the game. That’s why we want to do science. I hate marking because I don’t like judging people, so I find that aspect of the job difficult.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?

I’ve been so blessed that I’ve gone through life and things have worked out for me, so maybe I haven’t learned any great secrets in life. It’s always nice to know that in the future life will work out. But I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I would win a Nobel prize. I think that would have skewed me too much. I don’t think one should know something like that. It’s better for it to be a surprise.

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