Record year for female Nobel laureates

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Literature laureate Herta Mueller was the fourth woman to win a Nobel prize this week, making 2009 a record year for the number of female laureates.

On Monday, two women, Australian-American Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider of the United States, were awarded the Nobel Medicine Prize with US researcher Jack Szostak.

On Wednesday, Ada Yonath of Israel was one of three scientists recognised for her work in chemistry, and on Thursday the Swedish Academy honoured Mueller.

Until now, the highest number of women honoured in one year was three, in 2004. American Linda Buck won for medicine, Elfriede Jelinek of Austria was awarded the Nobel for literature and Kenyan Wangari Maathai was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mueller is the 12th woman to be awarded the Nobel for literature. The first woman to win the literature prize was Sweden's Selma Lagerloef in 1909.

Women have also been recognised 12 times in the field of peace, followed by 10 Nobel prizes given to women for medicine.

Female laureates have been recognised four times in chemistry, and twice in physics.

The first woman to obtain a Nobel prize was Marie Curie, who was awarded the physics prize in 1903 with her husband Pierre and Antoine Henri Becquerel.

Curie is also the only woman to have been awarded two Nobel prizes, having also won for chemistry in 1911.

Overall, the Nobel prize has been bestowed upon 39 women 40 times, including Curie's two awards.