Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, on Tuesday became the first woman in 55 years and the third ever to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing it with an American scientist and another from France for their work in laser physics.

The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences on Tuesday said half the $1.28-million Cdn prize goes to Arthur Ashkin of the United States, and the other half will be shared by Strickland and Gérard Mourou.

The academy said Ashkin, who is the oldest person ever named as a laureate at 96, developed “optical tweezers” that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them.

Strickland, 59, and Mourou, 74, separately helped develop short and intense laser pulses that have “opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications,” it said.

Their discoveries became the standard for high-intensity lasers used in millions of corrective eye surgeries every year, among other applications.

Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate to be named in three years and is only the third woman winning in physics: Marie Curie earned the award in 1903 and Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963.

“Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists, because we’re out there. And hopefully in time it’ll start to move forward at a faster rate, maybe,” Strickland said in a phone call with the academy after the prize announcement.

On Monday, American James Allison and Japan’s Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for groundbreaking work in fighting cancer with the body’s own immune system.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced on Wednesday, followed by the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The economics prize, which is not technically a Nobel, will be announced on Oct. 8.

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace have been awarded since 1901 in accordance with the will of Swedish business tycoon Alfred Nobel, whose discovery of dynamite generated a vast fortune used to fund the prize.

However, for the first time in decades, no Nobel Prize in Literature will be given this year after a scandal over sexual misconduct allegations saw a string of members leave the board of the Swedish Academy that awards it.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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