Ashkin, a researcher at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, invented "optical tweezers" - focused beams of light that can be used to grab particles, atoms and even living cells and are now widely used to study the machinery of life.
Drs Mourou and Strickland came up with a way of generating high intensity and very short laser pulses, which have a variety of applications.
Marie Curie, shared the 1903 award with two male scientists for research into radioactivity.More news: Canada and USA reach tentative NAFTA deal
"Billions of people make daily use of optical disk drive, laser printers and optical scanners, millions undergo laser surgery", said a Nobel committee member.
They include the first female physics prize victor in 55 years. At 96, he is the oldest person ever named as a laureate for any of the prestigious awards.
"Really? Is that all?"
"Obviously we need to celebrate women physicists because we are out there and hopefully in time it will start to move forward at a faster rate", she told news conference by telephone, shortly after learning of the prize. "I'm honored to be one of those women", she said.More news: Alyssa Milano Supports Sexual Assault Survivors on Capitol Hill
Last year's physics prize went to three Americans who used abstruse theory and ingenious equipment design to detect the faint ripples in the universe called gravitational waves.
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.
The Nobel chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, followed by the peace prize on Friday.More news: General Electric has lost value equal to Facebook since peak