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08 October 2014

Two More OSA Members Win Nobel Prize


Lyndsay Meyer
The Optical Society

Two More OSA Members Win Nobel Prize

Stefan Hell, W.E. Moerner Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on nanoscopy

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2014—On the heels of yesterday’s optics-related Nobel Prize in Physics announcement, The Optical Society (OSA) today congratulated two more OSA Members for their big wins—this time for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  OSA Member Stefan Hell of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Germany, and OSA Fellow W.E. Moerner of Stanford University, USA, along with their colleague Eric Betzig of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, USA, received the prize “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.” Hell and Moerner join 33 other OSA Members (including yesterday’s winner Hiroshi Amano) who have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry or Physiology/Medicine over the course of OSA’s nearly 100-year history.

“Working at the nanoscale has opened doors in areas from materials science to biomedical imaging,” said OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan. “The award-winning research by Drs. Hell, Moerner and Betzig shattered long-held assumptions about optical microscopy limits and has significant implications in areas such as brain mapping, degenerative disease studies and human reproduction.  The announcement of two Nobel Prizes involving optics this week shows the diversity and relevance of our dynamic field in today’s society.”

More than 140 years ago, scientist Ernst Abbe proposed that optical microscopy would never obtain better resolution than half the wavelength of light (0.2 micrometers). Betzig, Hell and Moerner overcame this limit using two different techniques.  Hell developed what is called stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy in which lasers simultaneously turn on specific fluorescent molecules while suppressing all other fluorescence outside the nanoscale.  Scanning this glowing sample with a microscope produces a high-resolution visible image of living cells well beyond the Abbe limit.  Betzig and Moerner independently developed single-molecule microscopy, which involves turning on and off the fluorescence of individual molecules to create a superimposed image at the nanoscale.

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the organization that gives out the Nobel Prizes, this kind of optical microscopy, known now as nanoscopy, enables researchers to “see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos. Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.”

Hell is the director of the NanoBiophotonics Department at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. He is a long-time OSA member, who has served on the advisory board for OSA’s journal Biomedical Optics Express and as an associate editor for OSA’s journal Optics Express.  Hell has also served on the program committee of several OSA sponsored or co-sponsored meetings, including CLEO, the OSA Biomedical Optics (BIOMED) meeting, the OSA Novel Techniques in Microscopy (NTM) meeting and the European Conferences on Biomedical Optics.

Moerner, a professor at Stanford University, was named an OSA Fellow in 1992 “for contributions to high-resolution laser spectroscopy of solids and demonstration of single-molecule detection in solids.”  He has actively served on several OSA meeting program committees, including CLEO, OSA’s Annual Meeting Frontiers in Optics (FiO), the OSA Fourier Transform Microscopy (FTM) meeting and the OSA Organic Thin Films for Photonics Applications meeting. 

Betzig, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, is a confirmed speaker at the Advanced Optical Microscopy for Brain Imaging Symposium at CLEO: 2015. Collectively, all three 2014 Nobel Prize Laureates in Chemistry have published more than 150 papers in OSA’s journals and conference proceedings.

The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony takes place Dec. 10, where His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the honor to Betzig, Hell, Moerner and the other 2014 Laureates. About OSA
Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and entrepreneurs who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts. OSA is a founding partner of the National Photonics Initiative and the 2015 International Year of Light. For more information, visit 
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