Arthur Ashkin

Arthur Ashkin
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Associated organizations
Bell Labs
Fields of study
Nobel Prize in Physics, IEEE Joseph F. Keithley Award in Instrumentation and Measurement


Arthur Ashkin is a Life Fellow of IEEE, and one of the recipients of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems”. He was born in 1922 in Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A. to Isadore Ashkin and Anna Ashkin, Jewish immigrants from Odessa and Galicia respectively. His father ran a dental laboratory at 139 Delancey Street in Manhattan. Ashkin graduated from James Madison High School in 1940. He earned his B.S. in physics from Columbia University in 1947. While a student at Columbia, Ashkin worked at Columbia’s Radiation Lab as a technician building magnetrons for military radars from 1942 to 1945. Ashkin earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University in nuclear physics in 1952.

Upon obtaining his Ph.D., Ashkin begin working at AT&T Bell Laboratories, in Murray Hill, New Jersey, U.S.A. Initially he conducted microwave research, switching in 1960-1961 to laser research. During this time his work focused on nonlinear optics, optical fibers, parametric oscillators and parametric amplifiers. He moved to Bell Labs’ Holmdel facility in 1967. Optical tweezers use light to manipulate viruses, bacteria, blood cells, and have proven immensely useful in biophysical research.

Furthermore, in 1984 Dr. Arthur Ashkin was elected to and inducted into the (U.S.) National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in his Primary Section of Electronics and Communication & Information Systems. Arthur Ashkin also co-discovered the photorefractive effect in the piezoelectric crystal at Bell Labs. Ashkin aided Steven Chu in earning the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics by laying the foundation for Chu's work on cooling and trapping atoms. In 1992 Ashkin retired from Bell Labs after a 40–year career during which he contributed to multiple areas of experiment physics. Lastly, Dr. Arthur Ashkin was also elected to the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1996 in his Primary Section of Physics and Secondary Section of Engineering Sciences.

He has written countless research papers and holds forty-seven patents. He has received the Joseph F. Keithley Award For Advances in Measurement Science in 2003 and the Harvey Prize in 2004. Though Ashkin is best known for his studies in optical tweezers, he also spent time working on photorefraction, second harmonic generation, and non-linear optics in fibers. Ashkin held various professional memberships: Optical Society of America (OSA), the American Physical Society (APS), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). On 2 October 2018, at the age of 96, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on optical trapping. He was thus the oldest person at that time to accept a Nobel Prize.

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