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Arthur Ashkin, from the United States, was awarded half the £770,000 (9 million Swedish kronor) prize, with the other half shared by Gerard Mourou of France and Canadian Donna Strickland.

Three scientists on Tuesday won the Nobel Physics Prize for inventing optical lasers that have paved the way for advanced precision instruments used in corrective eye surgery and in industry, the jury said. The other half was awarded to US physicist Arthur Ashkin. In 1987, he used the tweezers to grasp living bacteria without harming them, according to the academy statement.

After winning the award, Donna Strickland said, "We need to celebrate women physicists because they're out there..."

Achievements by Strickland, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, and Morou, of the École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France, led to the creation of the world's shortest and most intense laser pulses. Among this year's top contenders were scientists who worked on a technology which showcased the development of solar cells based on a class of mineral called perovskites, devices whose performance is on par with that of silicon solar cells, and which are less costly and energy-intensive to produce.

Strickland became the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Maria Goeppert-Mayer (1963) and Marie Curie (1903). The technique boosts the power of a pulse of laser light. "I thought there might have been more but I couldn't think", said the physicist during the ceremony.

When asked this morning about the groundbreaking discovery, Strickland said, "It's thinking outside the box to stretch first and then amplify".

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Mourou and Strickland's technique is known as chirped pulse amplification, CPA. It is used most frequently in laser eye surgery, but there are many other applications, including in ultra-fast cameras used for imaging molecular processes.

Ashkin, who in 1987 had used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them, is the oldest victor of a Nobel prize, beating American Leonid Hurwicz, who was 90 when he won the 2007 Economics Prize.

Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics, praised all the laureates and said "It is also a personal delight to see Dr. Strickland break the 55-year hiatus since a woman has been awarded a Nobel Prize in physics, making this year's award all the more historic".

Wednesday: Nobel Prize in chemistry will be awarded.

Monday: Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine is awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for advances in discovering how the immune system can fight off cancer.


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