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The 2014 Nobel prize was awarded to two Americans and a German “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”, allowing us to see features at the scale of billionths of a meter.
We were all waiting with eager anticipation when the names of Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner, were pronounced yesterday by the Nobel committee in Sweden, for their work on optical microscopy and their major contribution to the understanding of molecules.
“Their groundbreaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nano-dimension”
the Nobel jury said.
“Today, nanoscopy is used worldwide, and new knowledge of the greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.”
The revolutionary technique allows scientists, for example, to peer inside nerve cells and track proteins that cause diseases.
Back in 1873, the microscopist Ernst Abbe believed a limit had been reached to how much more of a detailed picture a microscope could provide. The winners proved the contrary: with the help of fluorescent molecules, their work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.
Stefan Hell worked on the development of the stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy method: “One laser beam stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow; a second laser beam cancels out all fluorescence, except for that in a nanometre-sized volume.
At the same time, Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, discovered that fluorescent proteins could be turned on and off, Eureka! They were ready to develop their single-molecule microscopy method: “the same area is imaged multiple times, so that only a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel”.