Biography:Gérard Mourou

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Short description: French physicist (born 1944)
Gérard Mourou
Gérard Mourou, 2014.jpg
Gérard Albert Mourou

(1944-06-22) 22 June 1944 (age 79)
Albertville, Occupied France
EducationUniversity of Grenoble (BSc, MSc)
Pierre and Marie Curie University (PhD)
Known forChirped pulse amplification
  • R. W. Wood Prize (1995)
  • Nobel Prize in Physics (2018)
Scientific career
InstitutionsÉcole polytechnique
ENSTA ParisTech
University of Rochester
University of Michigan
N. I. Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod
Doctoral studentsDonna Strickland

Gérard Albert Mourou (French: [ʒeʁaʁ muʁu]; born 22 June 1944)[1][2] is a French scientist and pioneer in the field of electrical engineering and lasers. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018, along with Donna Strickland, for the invention of chirped pulse amplification, a technique later used to create ultrashort-pulse, very high-intensity (petawatt) laser pulses.[3]

In 1994, Mourou and his team at the University of Michigan discovered that the balance between the self-focusing refraction (see Kerr effect) and self-attenuating diffraction by ionization and rarefaction of a laser beam of terawatt intensities in the atmosphere creates "filaments" that act as waveguides for the beam, thus preventing divergence.


Mourou has been director of the Laboratoire d'optique appliquée at the ENSTA from 2005 to 2009. He is a professor and member of Haut Collège at the École polytechnique and A. D. Moore Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan where he has taught for over 16 years. He was the founding director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at the University of Michigan in 1990. He had previously led a research group on ultrafast sciences at Laboratoire d'optique appliquée of ENSTA and École polytechnique, after obtaining a PhD degree from Pierre and Marie Curie University in 1973. He then went to the United States and became a professor at the University of Rochester in 1977, where he and his then student Donna Strickland produced their Nobel prize-winning work in the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the university.[4] The pair co-invented chirped pulse amplification, a "method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses".[5] Strickland's doctoral thesis was on "development of an ultra-bright laser and an application to multi-photon ionization".[6]

In the 2000s, Mourou was featured by a French film company in a publicity video for the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI).[7][8]

Nobel Prize

Mourou, speaking in 2018 after being awarded the Nobel Prize

On 2 October 2018, Mourou and Strickland were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, for their joint work on chirped pulse amplification.[9] They shared half of the Prize, while the other half was awarded to Arthur Ashkin for his invention of "optical tweezers that grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with their laser beam fingers".[10][11]

Gérard Mourou during Nobel press conference in Stockholm, December 2018

Mourou and Strickland found that stretching a laser out reduced its peak power, which could then be greatly amplified using normal instruments. It could then be compressed to create the short-lived, highly powerful lasers they were after.[11] The technique, which was described in Strickland's first scientific publication, came to be known as chirped pulse amplification (CPA). They were probably unaware at the time that their tools would make it possible to study natural phenomena in unprecedented ways.[11] CPA could also per definition be used to create a laser pulse that only lasts one attosecond, one-billionth of a billionth of a second. At those timescales, it became possible not only to study chemical reactions, but what happens inside individual atoms.[11]

The Guardian and Scientific American provided simplified summaries of the work of Strickland and Mourou: it "paved the way for the shortest, most intense laser beams ever created". "The ultrabrief, ultrasharp beams can be used to make extremely precise cuts so their technique is now used in laser machining and enables doctors to perform millions of corrective" laser eye surgeries.[9][12] Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the achievements of Mourou and Strickland: "Their innovative work can be found in applications including corrective eye surgery, and is expected to have a significant impact on cancer therapy and other physics research in the future".[13]

Awards and honors



  1. Lindinger, Manfred (2 October 2018). "Eine Zange aus lauter Licht" (in de). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 
  2. "Gérard Mourou – Facts – 2018". Nobel Media AB. 5 October 2018. 
  3. "Gérard Mourou". University of Michigan. 2 October 2018. 
  4. "Rochester breakthrough in laser science earns Nobel Prize". 2 October 2018. 
  5. Murphy, Jessica (2 October 2018). "Donna Strickland: The 'laser jock' Nobel prize winner". BBC News. 
  6. Strickland, Donna Theo (1988). Development of an ultra-bright laser and an application to multi-photon ionization (PDF) (PhD). University of Rochester. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 July 2013. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  7. Morin, Hervé (2 October 2018). "Quand le Nobel Gérard Mourou se mettait en scène dans un clip musical potache". Le Monde. "Le laboratoire avait contacté une compagnie de théâtre spécialisée dans les sujets scientifiques..en 2008. C’est à cette occasion que [réalisateur] Mokaddem Djemel a rencontré les chercheurs. De fil en aiguille, l’idée d’une vidéo a germé, utilisant une chanson du spectacle. (The lab contacted a theatre company specializing in scientific 2008. It was then that [filmmaker] Mokaddem Djemel met the researchers. Gradually, the idea of a video was born, using a song from the show.)" 
  8. "Have you seen ELI3". 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Sample, Ian; Nicola Davis (2 October 2018). "Physics Nobel prize won by Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland". The Guardian. 
  10. "Arthur Ashkin, 2 others win Nobel Physics Prize for laser research". 2 October 2018. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Johnston, Hamish (2 October 2018). "Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland win the Nobel Prize for Physics". 
  12. Billings, Lee (2 October 2018). "'Optical Tweezers' and Tools Used for Laser Eye Surgery Snag Physics Nobel". 
  13. Statement by the Prime Minister on Donna Strickland winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, PMO, 2 October 2018.
  14. "R. W. Wood Prize". The Optical Society. "For contributions to the field of ultrafast optics, in particular for introducing the concept of chirped pulse amplification for laser systems to boost optical power peaks to unprecedented levels" 
  15. "SPIE Harold E. Edgerton Award in High-Speed Optics". International Society for Optics and Photonics. 
  16. "Quantum Electronics Award Winners". "For pioneering contributions to ultrafast optics including optical sampling and intense fs pulses" 
  17. "Gérard Mourou – the 2005 Willis E. Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics". 
  18. "Gérard Mourou". The Optical Society. 
  19. "Gérard Mourou receives the Frederic Ives Medal of the Optical Society of America". École Polytechnique. March 30, 2016. 
  20. Holton, Conard (2016-09-15). "Berthold Leibinger prizes awarded for applied laser technology, Future Prize goes to Gérard Mourou". 
  21. "Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science". 
  22. "Nobel laureate Gérard Mourou is awarded the VU honorary doctorate (in Lithuanian)". Vilnius university. February 3, 2020. 

External links