Work On Fluorescent Microscope Earns Three Scientists 2014 Nobel Prize In Chemistry

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Two Americans and one German scientist have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for using fluorescence to improve the resolution of microscopes, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Wednesday.
Eric Betzig of the Janelia Farm Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia; Stefan W. Hell of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the German Cancer Research Center; and William E. Moerner of Stanford University will split prize money of eight million kronor (just over $1.1 million).
According to the Associated Press (AP), the academy honored the trio for “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy,” which they said allowed them to bypass the maximum resolution of traditional optical microscopes. “Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension,” they added.
Betzig, Hell and Moerner were announced as the Nobel Prize winners at a press conference in Sweden, and BBC News reported that their names will be added to a list of 105 other Chemistry laureates recognized by the academy since 1901. Their work made it possible to study molecular processes in real time, said committee chair and Lunds University chemist Sven Lidin.
Prior to their work, it was believed that optical microscopes would never be able to yield a resolution better than 0.2 micrometers, or half the wavelength of light. Betzig, Hell and Moerner were able to circumvent that limitation, however, by using fluorescent molecules which made it possible to study the activity of individual molecules inside living cells, including the aggregation of proteins associated with various diseases, the academy said.
The Academy awarded two separate principles: one to Hell for developing the method that enabled stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, which uses one laser beam to stimulate fluorescent molecules to glow and another to cancel out all but those in a nanometer-sized volume; and the other to Betzing and Moerner who, working separately, laid the foundation for a second method of single-molecule microscopy.
Their method, the academy explained, relies upon the possibility of being able to activate or deactivate the fluorescence of individual molecules. Researchers image the same area several times, allowing only a few interspersed molecules to glow during each session. They then superimpose those images, which yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel, they added. The method was first used by Betzig in 2006.
Upon hearing that he was named as one of the winners of the award, which the Wall Street Journal refers to as “the most prestigious prize for chemistry research,” Hell told reporters that he was “totally surprised” and “couldn’t believe it.” Moerner’s wife, who learned from the AP her husband was named a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, said that she was “delighted” and “thrilled,” and she “had no idea it would be these three individuals.”
In a statement, American Chemical Society (ACS), President Dr. Tom Barton congratulated the winner, adding that their work had “allowed us to see the previously unseen – lifting the veil on bacteria, viruses, proteins and small molecules. This work is a most appropriate choice to be honored as it represents the confluence of biology, physics and chemistry. This is a wonderful example of chemistry as the enabling science.”
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