Paul Corkum

Paul Corkum, a distinguished professor at the University of Ottawa, principal research officer at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and co-director of the NRC-uOttawa Joint Centre for Extreme Photonics, was named a co-recipient of the international Wolf Prize in Physics for 2022.

Paul Corkum ’67G ’72 Ph.D. Named Co-Recipient of Prestigious Wolf Prize in Physics

The Lehigh graduate was honored for his contributions in the fields of ultrafast laser science and attosecond physics.

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Stephen Gross

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uOttawa/National Research Council Canada

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It was a typical Sunday morning for Paul Corkum ’67G ’72 Ph.D.—until his phone rang. Displaying a number that included too many digits to have originated in the United States or Canada, he thought it could be a spam call. Something, he said he’s not sure what, prompted him to answer.

“There was a long dead time, making me even more convinced that it was someone trying to give me a million dollars, if I only sent them something first,” Corkum said. He persevered through a bad connection, still thinking it was a spam call, until he heard the word “Wolf.”

The call was to inform Corkum, a top contender for the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics, that he was named a co-recipient of the international Wolf Prize in Physics for 2022.

Paul Corkum

After receiving his master’s degree in physics from Lehigh, Paul Corkum ’67G ’72 Ph.D. earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Lehigh in 1972.

“I am very glad I did not hang up,” said Corkum.

A distinguished professor at the University of Ottawa, principal research officer at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and co-director of the NRC-uOttawa Joint Centre for Extreme Photonics, Corkum directs the Joint NRC/University of Ottawa Attosecond Science Laboratory.

The prestigious Wolf Prize, awarded annually since 1978, is presented to scientists and artists for their “achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations amongst peoples.” Corkum was honored specifically for his contributions in the fields of ultrafast laser science and attosecond—one billionth of a billionth of a second—physics.

Ferenc Krausz, a Hungarian-Austrian physicist and professor of physics and chair of experimental physics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and Anne L’Huillier, a French/Swedish physicist and professor of atomic physics at Lund University in Sweden, were also co-recipients of the Wolf Prize in Physics.

“I knew that the sub-field of physics had become important, but I didn’t know it was important enough for the Wolf Prize, and therefore, I did not know that I was a candidate,” Corkum said. “With the prize given to three optical scientists, the physics community has decided that attosecond science is one of the most significant sub-fields of physics today.”

Corkum is a pioneer in the field of ultrafast laser spectroscopy and known for his contributions to the field of high harmonic generation and for proposing intuitive models which help explain complex phenomena.

"His ground-breaking research, which launched the field of attosecond science, began at the NRC [National Research Council of Canada] decades ago and continues to transform our understanding of the world around us,” Geneviève Tanguay, vice president, emerging technologies at NRC, said. “[He] developed the tools for producing the shortest man-made flashes of light—attosecond pulses—which are used to study the fastest processes that are relevant to our world: the motion of electrons in molecules and atoms. These dynamical processes underlie chemical reactions and biological processes on the molecular level such as the ability to see."

After receiving his master’s degree in physics from Lehigh, he earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Lehigh in 1972 with a dissertation titled, “The relation between magnetohydrodynamics and space and time dependent correlation functions.”

Paul Corkum

Paul Corkum ’67G ’72 Ph.D. earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Lehigh with a dissertation titled, “The relation between magnetohydrodynamics and space and time dependent correlation functions.”

“There are still a few people in the Physics Department who remember Paul Corkum as a student,” Michael Stavola, Sherman Fairchild Professor of Physics and chair of the Department of Physics at Lehigh, said. “The remarkable career he has made for himself is a testament to the benefits of a strong education in basic physics, which he received from his dissertation advisor, Al McLennan. Faculty in the Department of Physics remember Paul Corkum as a graduate student who was always cheerful and engaging.

“In his recent visits to Lehigh, he has presented physics colloquia in the same engaging way, explaining his remarkable work on observing the inner workings of chemical reactions on an attosecond time scale at a level that could be appreciated by students who found his research exciting and inspirational,” Stavola said.

Robert Flowers, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Danser Distinguished Chair in the Department of Chemistry, said, “I was thrilled to learn of Dr. Corkum’s award. The strength of the college’s graduate programs lies in our commitment to nurturing graduate student research. It is truly rewarding when our graduate alumni take what they learn here, go on to achieve great things and are recognized for changing the course of their respective disciplines.”

Corkum is a fellow of the Royal Societies of London and of Canada and a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Academy of Science and the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is a recipient of numerous Canadian and international awards, including Canada’s Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal and its Killam Prize, as well as the Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science from the American Physical Society, the King Faisal International Prize for Science and the Harvey Prize from the Israel Institute of Technology. In 2009, he was elected a member of the U.S. Academy of Science.

Since its inception, a total of 345 artists and scientists have earned the Wolf Prize. In addition to physics, the scientific categories include medicine, agriculture, mathematics and chemistry and physics.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

uOttawa/National Research Council Canada

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