Arthur Ashkin was awarded the prestigious prize for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.
She shares half the $1.4 million prize with French laser physicist Gerard Mourou.
Taking reporters' questions via phone from her home in Waterloo, Canada, Strickland reacted with surprise when told only two women had preceded her in winning the prize: "Is that all, really?" she asked.
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Göran K. Hansson of the Nobel Foundation said part of the issue is that they often goes back in time to award prizes, a process which can take a lot of time to verify.
Strickland had became attracted to laser physics for not only scientific but also aesthetic reasons: She noticed the green and red beams that shone throughout Mourou's lab like a Christmas tree. Since the first laser was invented in 1960, scientists speculated that the energy of these focused beams could be put to work to move and manipulate objects - a real life version of Star Trek's "tractor beams".
The Nobel Prize will be just the latest accolade Dr Strickland has received for her work. Although Ashkin, in the mid 1980s, originally meant to use the technique to manipulate atoms, he soon moved onto larger particles and then biological objects, including viruses and living cells.
Ashkin, 96, began his work soon after the invention of the laser in 1960, and by the 1980s had realized a science fiction dream: moving objects with only the pressure of a light beam.
The Rochester researchers developed an elegant workaround, which they called "chirped pulse amplification". They first stretched out the laser pulse in time by several orders of magnitude, thereby reducing their peak power, then passed the stretched pulse through an amplifier, and finally compressed the pulse again in time to produce a short pulse with much enhanced power. It also found a use in laser therapy targeting cancer and in the millions of corrective laser eye surgeries which are performed each year.