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The world’s oldest Nobel Prize winner, a 96-year-old physicist, says his new invention will give everyone in the world clean, cheap energy

  • At 96, Arthur Ashkin is the oldest person to ever be awarded a Nobel Prize.
  • Ashkin won half the 2018 prize in physics for his role in developing technology that makes very small beings “levitate” using only light. He did that work at Bell Labs in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
  • His discovery spurred the invention of optical tweezers, which have been used to stretch DNA and invent a life-saving malaria test, among other medical uses.
  • The Nobel laureate says he’s not done inventing yet: His lifelong obsession with light has taken a recent turn toward solar energy.

RUMSON, New Jersey — Arthur Ashkin, the world’s oldest Nobel Prize winner, favors comfort over style.

When I met him in his New Jersey home, he was sporting a fleece-lined zip-up, corduroy pants, and fuzz-lined Crocs.

The outfit makes sense for someone who spends a lot of time tinkering with new inventions in the basement.

Ashkin, who’s 96 years old, has turned the bottom floor of his house into a kind of laboratory where he’s developing a solar-energy-harnessing device.

“I’m making cheap electricity,” he said.

Ashkin’s new invention uses geometry to capture and funnel light. It relies on reflective concentrator tubes that intensify solar reflections, which could make existing solar panels more efficient or perhaps replace them with something cheaper and simpler.

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