Every year the chemical sciences community holds their breath as we all wait to find out who will be honoured with the coveted Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and this week Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner were jointly awarded the prize for their work developing super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.
Optical microscopy has long been limited in its resolution by the wavelength of light, and so often techniques such an electron microscopy were the only way of ‘seeing’ samples smaller than the micrometre range. This is widely known as Abbe’s diffraction limit. However, Betzig Hell and Moerner broke down this barrier and have since allowed scientists to peer into the before unseen nanoworld.
Firstly, stimulated emission depletion microscopy was developed by Stefan Hell in 2000, which utilised fluorescent molecules to allow a nano-sized beam of light to scan an image in nanometre-resolved detail.
Then, Eric Betzig and William Moerner separately used this technique to develop single molecule microscopy – switching the fluorescence of a few individual molecules on and off each time an area is mapped, allowing for super-resolved images.
Years of painstaking theoretical and experimental work by these three great researchers has led to this ground-breaking work, which has since been adopted worldwide. It is widely utilised for the study of individual molecules in biological systems, allowing scientists to study processes in detail which had never been thought possible before.
If you’re interested in this work, you can find an excellent review of the science behind the prize here on the Nobel Prize website,.