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Attosecond Science

Paul Corkum - Biography

Curriculum Vitae

Paul Corkum started his career as a theoretical physicist but changed to experiment when he arrived as a Post doctoral Fellow at NRC in 1973. He could make the change because as a grad student, he learned to repair his car. When asked during an interview at NRC "what makes you think you can become an experimenatlist?" he could reply "it's no problem, I can take the engine of a car completely apart repair it and put it back together so it will work." So they hired him.

At NRC he concentrated first on laser physics but with the revolution in laser technology, intense laser pulses are now being applied in every discipline. Dr. Corkum anticipated their impact. He is best known for introducing many of the concepts in strong field atomic and molecular science.

For example, in the 1980's Dr. Corkum introduced (and experimentally confirmed) a model of atomic ionization that was both quantitative and intuitive. Atomic ionization is plasma production and so the model also describes the initial parameters with which plasmas begins their life. This work is now seen as fundamental to both atomic physics and to plasma physics. The intuitive nature of the model allowed Dr. Corkum and his collaborators to propose a new approach to making X-ray lasers. Named by the NRC group as OFI (optical field ionization) lasers, their method is one of the most important approaches to X-ray laser research today.

In the early 1990's a number of new, seemingly unconnected, phenomena were discovered in strong field atomic physics. Two of the most important of these are high harmonic generation and correlated double ionization (a phenomenon in which an atom absorbs 100's of photons and emits two electrons). Dr. Corkum developed a comprehensive theory of all of these phenomena. He then demonstrated its validity. This work is the foundation on which all subsequent research in this area has been built.

Based on the so-called re-collision electron, the intuitive nature of the model allowed Dr. Corkum to propose a method for producing and measuring attosecond pulses. In 2001 he, together with co-workers in Vienna, achieved sub-femtosecond pulses for the first time.

Exploiting the implications of the re-collision electron provides the focus of Dr. Corkum's current research. The re-collision electron is an electron interferometer built by light from an atom or molecule. As with any interferometer, it can be used to measure the interfering waves -- the bound electron and the re-collision electron. That means that orbitals are observable.

Re-collision fuses collision physics and optics bringing each new opportunities. To collision physics, it offers pump-probe and time resolved experiments for the first time. To optics, it offers shorter wavelengths and shorter pulse coherent sources. However, most importantly, the re-collision is a unique interplay between a coherent electron, coherent atoms or molecules and coherent light that has never been available before.

Canada Research Chair in Attosecond Photonics, Dr. Corkum is the Director of the Attosecond Science Program at NRC and a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Ottawa. Over the years, Dr. Corkum has received several distinctions in recognition of his ground-breaking research. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1996) and the Royal Society of London (2005) and an elected member of the US Academy of Science (2009).

Among his most prestigious prizes are the Canadian Association of Physicists' Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Physics (1996), the Royal Society of Canada's Tory Award (2003), the Optical Societies Charles H. Townes Award (2005) and the IEEE's Quantum Electronics Award (2005). In 2006, he has received the Killam Prize for natural sciences, and was awarded the American Physical Society's Arthur L. Schawlow Prize for Quantum Electronics. In 2007, he was inducted as an Officer to the Order of Canada and received NSERC's prestigious Polanyi Award in 2008.

In 2013, Dr. Corkum received two very prestigious international awards, the Harvey Prize from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology and the King Faisal International Prize for Science. The Optical Society of America (OSA) awarded him the Frederic Ives Medal in 2014 and in 2015, Dr. Corkum was named Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate, reserved for researchers who are “of Nobel class” and likely to earn the Nobel someday.

Contact Information:
Professor Paul Corkum
Department of Physics, University of Ottawa
Director, NRC Attosecond Science Program
Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences
National Research Council of Canada
100 Sussex Drive, Rm 2063
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A OR6
Phone: (613) 993-7390
Fax: (613) 991-3437

E-mail: Paul. Corkum@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca