Three Americans won the Nobel Prize in physics Wednesday, and the prize for chemistry was awarded to three West Germans, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Americans Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger won the 1988 prize in physics for discoveries that have helped explain the makeup of the universe, the academy said.Their work in elementary particle physics shed light on the "innermost structure and dynamics of matter" by discovering a subatomic particle and using it as an active tool in particle physics.

The academy said West Germans Johann Deisenhofer, Robert Huber and Hartmut Michel won the chemistry prize for their research into the photosynthetic process, by which plants use sunlight to grow.

The three succeeded in unraveling the full details of how a protein is built, atom by atom, the academy said. Each award carries a $390,000 prize.

Lederman, 66, director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, said the physics work his team had carried out was "part of a strategy that physicists have been working on essentially for hundreds of years. How does the universe work? You have to understand its basic ingredients."

The scientists had been working on "the bricks and cement" of the universe, said Lederman, who for the past 10 years has been head of the lab in suburban Chicago.

The Americans, breaking a five-year European streak in physics, planned the research at Columbia University in New York and carried it out at the Brookhaven National Accelerator Laboratory on Long Island in 1961 and 1962.

The awarding committee cited the Americans for their discovery of "the neutrino beam method and the demonstration of the doublet structure of the leptons through the discovery of the muon neutrino."

Lederman said the work established the existence of two types of neutrinos. A neutrino is a basic fundamental part of matter out of which the entire universe is made.

Schwartz, 55, is president of his own firm specializing in computer communications in Mountain View, Calif. Steinberger, 67, a U.S. citizen born in Germany who works in the experimental physics division of the Center for European Nuclear Research, known by the French acronym, CERN, told colleagues he was "absolutely delighted" by the award and then went to lunch.

In awarding the chemistry prize, the academy cited the West Germans' discovery that in photosynthesis proteins are taken from bacteria, which, like green plants and algae, use light energy from the sun to build organic matter.

One of the West Germans, Deisenhofer, 45, works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Texas in Dallas. Huber, 51, works at the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, West Germany, and Michel, 40, works at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt, West Germany.

"All our nourishment has its origin in this process, which is called photosynthesis and which is a condition for all life on earth," the academy said.