Canadian laser Specialist claims major U.K. science Trophy
It’s been a fantastic week for one of the top scientists of Canada.
On Tuesday, Paul Corkum, a laser physicist who divides his time between the National Research Council and the University of Ottawa, learned that he’s been awarded the Royal Medal, an honor bestowed annually by the U.K.’s Royal Society.
The trophy has been won by just a couple of Canadians, with a list of recipients that includes the likes of Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday and Lord Kelvin. The decoration, which dates back to 1826, admits “the most important contributions to the progress of natural knowledge” by scientists in Britain and Commonwealth countries, the society’s description notes.
“It is amazing to be in this long line of individuals who stretch back over nearly two decades,” said Dr. Corkum, speaking this week by a meeting with U.S. colleagues in Washington. “It’s a really large honour.”
In 73, Dr. Corkum can hardly be accused of resting on his laurels. His work describes a set of new laser experiments conducted in the centre of the NRC on Sussex Drive in Ottawa which could open the door.
“We do not yet understand how significant this is,” Dr. Corkum said. However he added that the job has resulted in a patent for its capacity to measure changes in voltage on a computer processor, like in small scales.
Dr. Corkum is famous for his development of attosecond lasers, powerful sources of light whose pulses are measured in quintillionths of a second — fast enough, by way of instance, to probe the behaviour of individual electrons within the chemical bonds that hold together much of our material world.
Recently, silicon chips has been blasting to study the generation of high harmonics that are so-called — colours of light that are emitted than the light that went in at higher frequencies.
Dr. Corkum compared the effect to bashing out a low note on the piano, which then causes notes at higher octaves to resonate by themselves. The result is a quantum process that’s triggered by passing laser light when the electrons in a material are yanked, causing them to recollide with the atoms.
It has has been discovered to occur in materials, although the effect was observed in gasses.
“This was a huge surprise to everyone working the area,” said Dr. Corkum, and potentially a lot more useful because “there are things you can do in solids that you can’t do in gasses.”
In the work published this week, Dr. Corkum and his team irradiated bits of silicon to create high harmonics. In some instances, the silicon surface was “decorated” with tiny pyramid-like structures that helped to concentrate the emitted light. In different experiments metals were added to make effects that were unique.
During the experiments, the team found that the characteristic of the light that was emitted changed in the presence of an electric field. That meant the light could be utilised as a detector of a voltage in the good, which means it could be utilised as a sensitive probe of voltages over very short distances “That’s our hope,” Dr. Corkum said. “There’s a ways to go to develop the technology.”
Another possible application includes using high harmonics as “a light source for viewing the fastest chemical and material processes,” said David Reis, a Stanford University physicist who was not part of the analysis.
He added that Dr. Corkum’s most current work was noteworthy because it showed, “that by tailoring the microscopic properties of the materials, an individual can manipulate both the generation and emission pattern” of the high harmonics, an area of tremendous interest among physicists who study the interaction of matter and light on short timescales.
In winning the Royal Medal, which comes with #10,000 (roughly $16,000 Canadian) in prize money, Dr. Corkum follows in the footsteps of Canadian researchers Gerhard Herzberg and John Polanyi, both of whom went on to win the Nobel Prize.
There was A Canadian medalist Anthony Pawson, a celebrated University of Toronto researcher who some considered a candidate before he died in 2013. In 2015, Dr. Corkum was identified by Thomson Reuters as a potential Nobel winner.
A presentation ceremony for the medal is being organized for a spokesperson for the Royal Society said.