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Arthur Ashkin in the United States, Gérard Mourou in France, and Donna Strickland in Canada will share the 9m Swedish kronor (£770,000) prize announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Tuesday.

Half will go to Arthur Ashkin, of Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey, for "optical tweezers and their application to biological systems".

Macron tweeted on Tuesday "we are proud of Gerard Mourou", the 74-year-old co-winner with Arthur Ashkin of the United States and Canada's Donna Strickland.

Marie Curie, who is the only woman who has received two Nobel Prizes, was the first woman to ever win the physics prize in 1903 for her co-discovery of radiation.

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

Asked what her first reaction to the news was, Strickland told the press conference announcing the prize, "First of all, you have to think it's insane, so that was my first thought".

The tweezers are "extremely important for measuring small forces on individual molecules, small objects, and this has been very interesting in biology, to understand how things like muscle tissue work, what are the molecule motors behind the muscle tissue", said David Haviland of the academy's Nobel committee.

The Nobel prizes have always been dominated by male scientists, and none more so than physics.

Strickland says her first thought on hearing she'd won the physics prize was "it's insane". Since the first laser was invented in 1960, scientists speculated that the energy of these focused beams could be put to work to move and manipulate objects - a real life version of Star Trek's "tractor beams".

Donna Strickland is among three scientists who have won the Nobel Prize for work in laser physics.

A major breakthrough came in 1987 when Ashkin used the tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them, the Academy noted.

"This is Waterloo's first Nobel laureate and the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 55 years", the university's president and vice-chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, said in a statement.

The academy said their 1985 article on the technique - called chirped pulse amplification or CPA - was "revolutionary". It also found a use in laser therapy targeting cancer and in the millions of corrective laser eye surgeries which are performed each year.


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