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Arthur Ashkin
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    (September 2, 1922-September 21, 2020)
    Born in Brooklyn, New York
    Worked at Bell Labs
    Developed ‘optical tweezers’ – the use of highly focused laser beams to hold and move microscopic objects, including cells, molecules and individual atoms
    Holds 47 patents
    Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2013)
    Co-recipient, with Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou, of the Nobel Prize in Physics (2018)
    He originally planned to study nuclear physics, but decided against it to avoid comparisons with his older brother Julian, who had already made a name for himself in the field.
    He noted, ‘When I described catching living things with light, people said, ‘Don’t exaggerate, Ashkin.’’ (In fairness to the skeptics, it did take 16 years for Ashkin to go from manipulating a latex sphere with optical tweezers [1970] to trapping a tobacco mosaic virus with the technique [1986].)
    He said about winning the Nobel Prize, ‘I am an old geezer. I can’t get all that excited.’
    He has been married to Aline Ashkin for over 60 years.
    Optical tweezers proved incredibly useful in studying biological processes at the single-molecule level.
    Even after retiring from Bell Labs (1992), he continued conducting experiments at home. (He even told reports interviewing him about his Nobel Prize that they were interrupting him from writing a paper on solar energy that he planned to submit to ‘Science’ magazine.)
    At 96, he became the oldest winner of a Nobel Prize.

Credit: C. Fishel

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