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Let There Be… Lasers

It is reasonable to assume that history will view 2018 as a watershed year for the advancement of women in society, not least because Donna Strickland was among the Nobel Prize winners in physics. To date, only three women have ever won the prestigious prize in this category – the first being my fellow countrywoman, Marie Skłodowska Curie.

The many ophthalmologists who perform countless corrective laser eye surgeries every year would struggle to do so without the work of co-winner Gérard Mourou and Strickland, who described “chirped pulse amplification” in 1985. With the ground-breaking technique, it was suddenly possible to pack much more light into a tiny area, dramatically increasing the intensity of the laser pulse. In doing so, lasers were better equipped to revolutionize physics, chemistry, and, of course, medicine.

Comparing herself with the previous female Nobel Prize Physics laureate, Maria Goeppert Mayer (who conducted much of her research in unpaid positions), Strickland felt that she had always been treated as an equal. But that’s not necessarily the reality for many women working or starting their careers in STEM fields, as evidenced by numerous studies and direct reports.

The first step to breaking the barriers that prevent women from progressing in science and medicine is by acknowledging, understanding and then discussing the organizational and institutional challenges that women face every day. In our November issue – my first as Editor – Phoebe Harkin gives voice to influential figures in ophthalmology to uncover what it’s really like to be a woman in vision in 2018.

Aleksandra Jones


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