It was also an exceptionally strong year for the United States, with 11 American citizens — some of them with dual nationality — among the 13 Nobel winners, including President Barack Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
With Monday's prize in economics, all the 2009 Nobel Prizes have been announced. The winners will receive them on Dec. 10 in twin ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo.
Here is a look at this year's winners and their work:
• Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine to Americans Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak for discovering how chromosomes protect themselves as cells divide, work that has inspired experimental cancer therapies and may offer insights into aging.
• Nobel Prize in physics to Americans Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith. Kao was honored for discovering how to transmit light signals long distance through hair-thin glass fibers. Boyle and Smith received the prize for opening the door to digital cameras by inventing a sensor that turns light into electrical signals.
• Nobel Prize in chemistry to Americans Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz and Israel's Ada Yonath — the first woman to receive it since 1964 — for creating detailed blueprints of ribosomes, the protein-making machinery within cells, research that's being used to develop new antibiotics.
• Nobel Prize in literature to Germany's Herta Mueller, a Romanian-born writer honored for work that "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."
• Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision drew praise, derision and plenty of puzzlement.
• The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences to Americans Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson for their work in economic governance. Ostrom was the first woman to win the prize since it was founded in 1968, and the fifth woman to win a Nobel award this year — a Nobel record.
This year a record five women were honored by the Nobel committees. In total, only 40 women have won the prestigious prizes, including Marie Curie who took the 1903 physics prize and the 1911 chemistry prize.
The 2009 winners include:
• Elinor Ostrom, 76, who made history by being the first woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, sharing it with fellow American Oliver Williamson for their work in economic governance.
• Elizabeth H. Blackburn, 60, and Carol W. Greider, 48, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Jack W. Szostak for their work in solving the mystery of how chromosomes protect themselves from degrading when cells divide. Greider is American and Blackburn has dual U.S.-Australian citizenship.
• Ada Yonath, 70, of Israel, who shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry with Americans Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz for their atom-by-atom description of ribosomes.
• Herta Mueller, 56, a Romanian-born German writer who won the literature prize for her critical depiction of life behind the Iron Curtain.
Other women who have won Nobel Prizes include literature winners Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing and peace prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi, a democracy activist in Myanmar, and Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.