The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland for advances in the field of laser physics, the Nobel Committee announced on Tuesday. According to reports, Strickland is the first woman to win this prize in 55 years.

Ashkin won “for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics”. Ashkin has been awarded the prize “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.”

Mourou and Strickland have been awarded “for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses”, the committee said.

The 9 million kronor (Rs 7.3 crore) prize will be divided between the three people. Ashkin was awarded one half of the prize, while Mourou and Strickland were jointly awarded the other half.

Ashkin’s optical tweezers make it possible to “observe, turn, cut, push and pull with light”. Laser tweezers are used to study biological processes, such as proteins, molecular motors, DNA or the inner life of cells.

Mourou and Strickland “paved the way towards the shortest and most intense laser pulses created by humankind”, according to Royal Swedish Academy for Sciences. Their technique – chirped pulse amplication – opened up new areas of research.

So far, 111 Nobel Prizes in Physics have been awarded to 206 individuals since 1901. The only person who has received the Nobel for Physics two times is John Bardeen, in 1956 and 1972.

“The Nobel medal for Physics was designed by Swedish sculptor and engraver Erik Lindberg and represents Nature in the form of a goddess resembling Isis, emerging from the clouds and holding in her arms a cornucopia,” according to the Nobel Foundation. “The veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science.”

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly on Monday to James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their “discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”. The chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday. The Nobel Prize in Literature was cancelled this year following allegations of sexual misconduct and leaks of names of some winners. The institution said it will announce two winners in 2019.

Last year’s prize

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish and Kip S Thorne for their work on constructing Ligo, or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, and the detection of gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time, spread at the speed of light, filling the universe, as Albert Einstein described in his general theory of relativity. Einstein was convinced it would never be possible to measure them. The Ligo project’s achievement was using a pair of gigantic laser interferometers to measure the gravitational wave as it passed the Earth.