ASCB Member William Moerner Wins Nobel Along with Eric Betzig and Stefan Hell

The resolution of traditional light microscopy was long thought to be limited due to the maximum diffraction of light. But today’s Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry changed that. William Moerner, Eric Betzig, and Stefan Hell won for cleverly circumventing this limit and imaging at a whole new scale known as nanomicroscopy or superresolution imaging.

William Moerner, an ASCB member at Stanford University, and Eric Betzig of Howard Hughes Medical Institue’s Janelia Farm both laid the groundwork for single-molecule imaging. Molecules are about 100 times too small to be seen at native size by conventional light microscopy. But by activating a few molecules at a time with light, then merging hundreds of these images, this technique can assemble a picture of molecules within a cell. Betzig talks more about superresolution techniques in an ASCB webinar, supported by Hamamatsu, he gave in September. ASCB President Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz also gave an ASCB webinar on the subject of superresolution imaging, and images she generated were featured in the Nobel press release.

Stefan Hell of the Max Plank Institute won for developing stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, which uses two lasers, one to activate fluorescent molecules, the other to cancel out the fluorescence everywhere but in a tiny part of the cell. By doing this across the cell one can get an image that’s better than the diffraction limit of light.

About the Author:

Christina Szalinski is a science writer with a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh.