Ashkin wins half of the prize for his development of "optical tweezers" which have allowed tiny organisms to be handled with light beams.
Along with Donna Strickland, he co-invented a technique called chirped pulse amplification, or CPA, which was later used to create ultrashort-pulse, very high-intensity laser pulses.
Strickland is the first woman to win since Maria Goeppert-Mayer for her work on the structure of nuclei in 1963.
The Nobel website says that the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 was divided, and one half awarded to Rainer Weiss, the other half jointly to Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves".
"Billions of people make daily use of optical disk drive, laser printers and optical scanners, millions undergo laser surgery", said Nobel committee member Olga Botner.
Marie Curie, shared the 1903 award with two male scientists for research into radioactivity. Strickland became the third female Nobel laureate in physics.
Strickland says her first thought on hearing she'd won the physics prize was "it's insane".
"Really? Is that all?"
"Obviously we need to celebrate woman physicists because we're out there. I'm honored to be one of those women", Strickland said in a news conference following the announcement in Stockholm.
The Nobel chemistry prize comes Wednesday, followed by the peace prize on Friday. The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel season on Monday, October 8.
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