Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart and Bernard Feringa will share the 8m kronor (£727,000) prize for the design and synthesis of machines on a molecular scale.
They were named at a press conference in Sweden.
These machines conceived by today’s laureates are a thousand times thinner than a strand of hair.
These machines could be used to deliver drugs directly into cancer cells.
This field of nanotechnology could be used in design of smart materials.
The prize recognizes their success in linking molecules together to design everything from motors to a car and muscles on a tiny scale.
“They have mastered motion control at the molecular scale,” said Olof Ramström, from the Nobel Committee.
Reacting to the award, Prof Feringa said: “I don’t know what to say, I’m shocked. And my second remark was: ‘I’m a bit emotional about it’.”
The celebrated physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with inspiring the concept of molecular machines.
In a lecture at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1959, titled “There’s plenty of room at the bottom”, he considered the possibility of the direct manipulation of matter at the atomic scale.
It was also in this lecture that he introduced the idea of “swallowing the surgeon”