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And the optical pulses of Mourou and Strickland have made numerous applications possible, notably laser eye surgery. She and Mourou found a way to produce a powerful laser pulse that lasts an nearly unimaginably short period of time.

The research also has industrial applications that are being explored around the world.

The 72-year-old was sentenced on Monday, just minutes before the award ceremony for the medicine prize began, to two years in prison for the rape of a woman seven years ago.

Steven Adie, assistant professor in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, was inspired by Ashkin's early work to come up with a way to use pressure from pulses of laser light to create sub-nanometer shifting of micron-sized particles embedded in soft tissue-like media.

Strickland's victory not only cemented her own place in Nobel history, but ended a 55-year-long drought for female physicists being recognized by the prize committee. The other half of the prize will go to Arthur Ashkin of the United States, who was the third victor of the award.

Mourou is the recipient to many awards like the Wood Prize from the Optical Society of America, the Edgerton Prize from the SPIE, the Sarnoff Prize from the IEEE, and the 2004 IEEE/LEOS Quantum Electronics Award. The economics victor in 2012, Lloyd Shapley, was 89.

The Nobel Prize in Physics will be officially presented at ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10.

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The work of the three winners constitutes "fundamental breakthroughs in physics that led to tools that are now being used all over science", said Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She suggested that, given the increasing proportion of women in physics since then, their representation in future Nobel physics prize nominations and awards might also increase.

But, she added: "I think there is a large list of barriers that women have to overcome including unconscious bias, different expectations and demands on their time".

Commenting on today's announcement, Jim Al-Khalili, the president of the British Science Association, said: "It is quite shocking to know that she is only the third woman to win a Physics Nobel, ever".

Ashkin will take one half of the prize while Mourou and Strickland will share the other half.

Strickland is the first female Nobel laureate in any field in three years.

Prior to that, the first woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Physics was Marie Curie, in 1903, of which she shared half with her husband Pierre, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel".