Nobel Prize winner Arthur Ashkin in Aspen for Wednesday lecture
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Who: Arthur Ashkin, 2018 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics
What: Physics Cafe and Public Lecture
When: 4:30 p.m., cafe, 5:30 p.m. lecture; both today Wednesday, Jan. 9
Where: Wheeler Opera House
Presenters: Aspen Center for Physics and Aspen Science Center
Just because Arthur Ashkin became the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize hardly means he is ready to settle down.
“I’m working on new stuff in my basement,” he said during a telephone interview Monday from his home in Rumson, New Jersey.
This comes from a man who is 96 years old and won the Nobel Prize in physics in October. It also comes from a man who couldn’t make the Dec. 10 ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, to receive his award because he was being treated for lymphoma.
“I will never be completely cured,” he said, “and will have to take these pills, these antibodies, for the rest of my life.”
Ashkin’s health has improved enough, however, so that he can honor his speaking commitment at 5:30 p.m. tonight at the Wheeler Opera House as part of the Physics Cafe and a public lecture presented by Aspen Center for Physics and Aspen Science Center.
He said he has enjoyed the attention poured on him since he was named a Nobel laureate because it gives him more clout in the science arena.
“It certainly has changed my life,” Ashkin said. “It usually had been very peaceful, and now it’s a very hectic life.”
Ashkin, who is sharing the Nobel Prize for physics with Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou, is regarded as a pioneer in optical tweezers.
During his three decades of research at AT&T Bell Labs in New Jersey, Ashkin created the laser-based optical traps, which sciencedaily.com describes as “light beam fingers that can take hold of particles, atoms, molecules and even bacteria and other living cells. The technique consists of an optical laser with the ability to hold onto a single cell, for example, without damaging it. This makes it possible to make very precise measurements.”
In an email promoting Ashkin’s Aspen appearance, Steven M. Block, a professor of sciences at Stanford University, heralded the speaker.
“Ashkin’s invention of laser-based optical traps, known as ‘optical tweezers,’ was fundamental to the establishment of the modern field of single molecule biophysics, which is the topic of our winter conference,” he said. “My own research in biophysics makes extensive use of optical tweezers to measure the properties of individual biomolecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids.”
For Ashkin, the Nobel Prize serves as the ultimate recognition he can receive for his work. While he wasn’t able to accept the award in person, his son spoke on his behalf. And in December, Nokia Bell Labs held a Nobel ceremony for him.
These days, Ashkin appears passionate, if not even feisty, about his latest mission, which is to convince the greatest skeptics of climate change that solar energy holds the key to the future. Now that he is armed with a Nobel Prize, he said, the skeptics at least must pay him attention.
“How do you convince them?” he said. “You convince them with money. There’s a woman I know who is a very avid Trump follower. She was talking about how her stock was going up, and it’s never going to go down. But whatever goes up has to go down. Well, she’s interested in money, and suppose I can make energy so much cheaper than what all of her investments are in — Exxon, Mobile, BP?
“Those things are going to be worth nothing, and is she going to be happy about that?”
Ashkin said his innovation in solar energy has yet to be revealed, but it will be soon.
“I know when something works, and this works, but you’ll have to wait,” he said. “And I hope it’s not very long from now, and then I’m going to win another Nobel Prize.”
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This summer in Aspen is likely to include indoor and outdoor concerts, maskless gatherings and no state or county-mandated restrictions on social distancing at restaurants or anywhere else.