Unheralded heroes

Canadian scientist, Donna Strickland, joins Marie Curie (1903) and Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963) as one of only three women to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.

She and her co-winner, Gerald Mourou, were recognized for their revolutionary paper in 1985 that paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever created.

Their technique, chirped pulse amplification, has subsequently enabled millions of corrective eye surgeries to be successfully performed.

This story is not just about Donna Strickland or successful women in science.

It’s about the countless scientists throughout civilizations who have rummaged around in their extraordinary minds, the physical world, and their laboratories to understand and develop ways that benefit humankind.

This story is important to encourage more young girls into the STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). These important fields need the balance of both male and female minds.

For more than 30 years many of our brightest students have been sucked into the vortex of obscene greed in finance jobs. Unfortunately, financial markets promote self-enrichment— whereas science promotes humankind and world betterment.

Something we are very short of at the moment.

This story is important because it shows scientists do not work in a short-term, self-centred vacuum as do publically listed corporations (three-month cycles) or politicians (four-year cycles). A scientific mind is not worried about the poll numbers or making the next quarterly report look good. They and their curious minds observe, make hypotheses and experiment to prove or disprove their ideas.

Scientists are not foremost about fame and fortune. That’s why over history they contribute far more than they ever take.

In contrast, today self-serving politicians and fossil fuel industry leaders continue to deny the catastrophic seriousness of climate change to the peril of the entire world.

History also reminds us that science can and has been used for harm rather than good. Autocratic leaders over the centuries have used science for evil against people they hate and want to wipe off the face of the earth.

Government leaders, even today in democracies, have muzzled scientists when the preponderance of scientific evidence doesn’t fit their short-term political agenda.

Even more worrying, as governments pull back research dollars, it has left our universities accepting funds from publically-listed corporations and multi-billionaires. Frankly, letting the fox into the chicken coop definitely taints the believability of industry-funded scientific research results.

Without the inquiring minds of independent scientists, we would arguably be a less advanced society, with few creature comforts and short life expectancies.

The invaluable work of Strickland and Mourou was done without seeking fame and fortune—albeit, recognition and cash have come 35 years later.

Through their selfless research, today untold millions of world citizens have received the priceless gift of perfect or improved vision.

Scientists are truly our unheralded heroes, but they seem to like it that way.

 

B.Schimke

ECA Review

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