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For the First Time in 55 Years, a Woman Shares the Nobel Prize in Physics

Canadian physicist Donna Strickland is the first woman in 55 years to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Strickland, who jointly won the award with Gérard Mourou, for their work in generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses, is only the third woman to receive the honor in the history of the Nobel Prizes.

Their work, which is called “chirped pulse amplification,” makes it possible to cut holes in living matter with tremendous precision, making surgeries on delicate tissue, such as eyes, possible.

American Arthur Ashkin, a 96-year-old physicist, was also awarded the Nobel in Physics for developing “optical tweezers,” letting researchers examine things as small as one micron in size without damaging them.

In a statement after receiving the prize, Strickland said “We need to celebrate women physicists because they’re out there… I’m honoured to be one of those women.”

The award puts her in esteemed company. Other women who have received the Nobel Prize in Physics include Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, whose work was key in understanding nuclear energy.

The Nobel comes with an award of 9 million Swedish kronor (roughly $1 million). Strickland and Mourou will take half of that with Ashkin receiving the rest.