PASADENA (CBSLA) — A Caltech scientist was awarded half of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry and is only the fifth woman to ever win the prize.

Frances H. Arnold, a scientist and engineer at the California Institute of Technology, was recognized for performing the first-ever “directed evolution” of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from sustainable biofuels to pharmaceuticals.

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“I am absolutely floored. I have to wrap my head around this. It’s not something I was expecting,” Arnold said in a Caltech statement.

Half of the $1.01 million prize will be awarded to Arnold, while the other half will be shared by George P. Smith, a professor at the University of Missouri, and Sir Gregory P. Winter of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who were honored for “phage display of peptides and antibodies.”

Arnold first joined Caltech as a visiting associate in 1986. She was named the university’s director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center in 2013.

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The award is the 39th Nobel Prize awarded to Caltech faculty and alumni.

In announcing the award in Stockholm, Sweden, the Royal Swedish Academy said that this year’s prize “awards a revolution based on evolution” and goes to scientists who “applied the principles of Darwin in the test tube.”

The methods developed by the trio are reported to have been put to work to create new enzymes and antibodies used in promoting a greener chemicals industry, mitigating disease and saving lives.

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