Paul B. Corkum Awarded 2018 SPIE Gold Medal of the Society

The University of Ottowa and National Research Council of Canada Research Chair in Attosecond Photonics received the highest honor that SPIE bestows, during an evening ceremony at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego

23 August 2018

Paul Corkum wins SPIE 2018 Gold Medal

SPIE President Maryellen Giger presents Paul Corkum with the 2018 SPIE Gold Medal

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA and CARDIFF, UK - Paul B. Corkum, of the Joint Laboratory for Attosecond Science at the University of Ottawa and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), received SPIE's top award for his development of new laser methods that led to the creation of the field of attoscience. His extensive career in physics includes introducing many of the concepts of how intense light pulses interact with atoms, molecules, and solids, as well as confirming those concepts experimentally.

"Corkum's work introduced a new area of science that brings together chemistry and physics in the form of high-intensity molecular science, proving that highly nonlinear, non-perturbative phenomena can occur at the molecular level in very intense laser fields," says Sir Peter Knight of Imperial College London. "Together with Ferencz Krausz, Corkum is the founder of attosecond science and they have been recognized throughout the world for this achievement."

Corkum, who grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, trained as a theoretical physicist, shifting into experimental work at the NRC. "I had completed my PhD research on the connection between correlation functions and transport in magnetized plasmas," he has said of his move to experimental work. "That research required theoretical skills. However, it turned out that I am a better experimentalist than I ever was as a theorist."

Experimentalists are expected to understand and pursue simple theories, Corkum noted, but also to solve technical problems in the lab and to work in a group atmosphere. "I like this combination better, but having a background in theoretical science still benefits my approach to scientific challenges. I keep a theorist's eye on all of my experiments, and I make sure that each experiment helps to answer a broad scientific question."

Corkum is a Fellow of the Royal Societies of Canada and London and a foreign member of the US, Austrian, and Russian Academies of Science. Among his many awards are the Canadian Association of Physicists' Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Physics (1996), the Royal Society of Canada's Henry Marshall Tory Meda (2003), Saudi Arabia's King Faisal Prize for Science (2013), and Israel's Harvey Prize (2013). In 2014, he was named a Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate for achievements considered likely to win a Nobel Prize.

"Paul Corkum's work and vision for attosecond science will potentially be a contender for a Nobel Prize in physics or chemistry," said Stephen R. Leone of the University of California. "It represents a breathtaking advance that permits measurements of electron dynamical timescales." Leone adds that in addition to producing award-winning research of his own, Corkum's insight into a broad array of important problems has set the tone for others around him. "His ability to select talented individuals and bring out the best in their creative energies is truly remarkable," says Leone. "The scientific fields and integration of topics embraced under his leadership produced a crown jewel of the research system, including nanoscale design and dynamics, ultrafast processes, high field physics, x-ray lasers, and theory."

The SPIE Gold Medal of the Society recognizes outstanding accomplishments in optics, electro-optics, or photographic technologies or applications.

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