2018 Isaac Newton Medal and Prize

Professor Paul Corkum of University of Ottawa and National Research Council of Canada for his outstanding contributions to experimental physics and to attosecond science – from the femtosecond scale of the motion of atoms within molecules, to the ultimate attosecond scale of the motion of electrons within atoms – and for pioneering work which has led to the first-ever experimental image of a molecular orbital and the first-ever space–time image of an attosecond pulse. Attosecond techniques can freeze the motion of electrons within atoms and molecules, observe quantum mechanical orbitals, and follow chemical reactions.

2018 Isaac Newton Medal and Prize Paul Corkum
© National Research Council Canada

Professor Paul Corkum is an experimental physicist whose groundbreaking research has introduced concepts of great significance that have led to the development of the field of high-order nonlinear optics. He developed and tested the very first model explaining the process of high-harmonic generation, widely known as Corkum’s three-step model, thereby launching the field of attosecond science.

Over his career, Paul Corkum has developed ever-shorter sources of light pulses and, by linking optical and collision physics, he has connected two previously unconnected cornerstones of physics. This linkage is providing a spatial dimension to optics that will open real-time measurements of collision-induced phenomena – including within the atomic nucleus itself. Thanks to the magic of quantum physics, an intense laser field removes part of an electron from a molecule and then interferes it with its alter ego that remains in the molecule.

This new approach permits the imaging of the structure of molecules using the recolliding electron, thereby permitting the observation of chemical reactions as they occur, and observing the rearrangement of electrons on the attosecond time-scale. These techniques are key to understanding photochemical processes such as photosynthesis, the mechanism of vision, and the photostability of DNA.

Professor Corkum’s scientific stature is evidenced by his outstanding list of publications in top scientific journals such as Science and Nature, both of which have highlighted the development of attosecond science as one of the 10 most important advances in all science in 2002. Over the past 20 years, Paul Corkum has overseen an uninterrupted series of major breakthroughs in a wide range of fields – molecular imaging, attosecond science, chemistry, condensed matter, and optical science.

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