Three scientists from the United States, France, and Canada have been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for advances in laser physics, including the first woman to take home the prize in 55 years. The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences on Tuesday awarded half the $1.01 million prize to Arthur Ashkin of the United States, and the other half will be shared by Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of Canada, per the AP. Strickland is the third female laureate in physics, but the first in more than half a century, reports the BBC.
The academy says Ashkin developed "optical tweezers" that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them. As the Guardian notes, "this means scientists can hold even living cells in place, allowing them to probe their inner workings." Strickland and Mourou helped develop short and intense laser pulses that have broad industrial and medical applications. The Nobel panel's explanation: "Ultra-sharp laser beams make it possible to cut or drill holes in various materials extremely precisely—even in living matter. Millions of eye operations are performed every year with the sharpest of laser beams." (A CERN scientist just got suspended for saying physics was built by men.)