However, for the first time in decades no Nobel Prize for 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.
The academy honored Ashkin of Bell Laboratories in the USA for developing "optical tweezers" that can grab tiny particles, like viruses, without damaging them.
Strickland is the first woman to win since Maria Goeppert-Mayer for her work on the structure of nuclei in 1963.
Strickland said her first thought on hearing she'd won was "it's crazy".
The awarding of the Nobel Prize in physics to Canadian scientist Donna Strickland has ended a drought for women winning any of the prestigious prizes.
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"The inventions being honoured this year have revolutionised laser physics". Their discoveries "opened up new areas of research and led to broad industrial and medical applications", the academy said. This means that a total of 206 individuals have received the Nobel Prize in Physics.
A 2011 profile on the University of Waterloo web site says Strickland described herself as a "laser jock" who enjoyed the competitive rush, and was working on creating the shortest laser pulse with the biggest punch. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry are conferred upon people who have excelled in the field of science.
Physics is the second of this year's crop of prizes and comes after the medicine prize was awarded on Monday for discoveries about how to harness and manipulate the immune system to fight cancer.
Friday: Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded.