2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Ellen Weiss
The Biophysical Society

The Biophysical Society Congratulates Members Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner for Winning the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Rockville, MD- The Biophysical Society congratulates members, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner, who along with Eric Betzig were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy."

Hell, a professor at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry, has been a member of the Biophysical Society since 1998. He received his PhD from the University of Heidelberg in 1990.

Moerner, a professor in the Chemistry Department at Stanford University, joined the Biophysical Society in 1996. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1982.

“I congratulate Hell, Moerner, and Betzig for this well-deserved award,” said Biophysical Society President Dorothy Beckett. “Their work has given us the ability to observe biomolecules in action at high resolution in the cell... For example, we can now track the cellular distribution of specific proteins during processes such as transcription, translation and cell division. The methods have applications in diagnosis,treatment, and prognosis of a host of diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.” Beckett continues, “It is particularly exciting to see the Nobel awarded for super-resolution fluorescence microscopy because the Biophysical Society has a long history of showcasing advances in biological fluorescence both at the Annual Meeting and in the Biophysical Journal. The powerful techniques created by Hell, Moerner and Betzig have now so permeated biophysics that it is impossible to attend the annual meeting without encountering their application in the entire range of systems studied by our members."

Biophysical Journal associate editor Dave Piston adds, “What unites these three researchers is their long-standing belief that we can achieve better clarity in imaging the inner workings of cells. I have known all of them for over 25 years, and in the early nineties, this all seemed like tilting at windmills. The ideas were there, but the tools (lasers, detectors, computers) were insufficient to accomplish super-resolution. That didn’t stop them, and they continued to push and change approaches towards the goal of being able to resolve single molecules in their normal functioning environment. As evidenced by the awarding of the Nobel Prize, the advances they have contributed to super-resolution imaging have been stunning.”  Piston notes that Hell and Moerner's work has appeared in Biophysical Journal.  

Enrico Gratton, Chair of the Society’s Fluorescence subgroup, shared his enthusiasm for the award as well. “This is a great recognition by the Nobel Committee of the transformation that fluorescence nano-imaging is bringing to biophysics and biology. Super-resolution microscopy has changed the way we perform experiments, opening new fields of biophysical research.” Gratton also provide examples to illustrate the importance of this work for each Nobel Laureate:

Hell showed that it was possible to reduce the effective volume of excitation from about 200 nm to the nanometer scale by using stimulated emission depletion and combining two laser beams with different spatial distribution at the same pixel. His work is monumental and is having a profound impact in the fluorescence imaging field. It gave the first experimental demonstration that it was possible to resolve objects that are much closer than the wavelength of light in the far field.

Betzig is a pioneer in the technique of single molecule localization. This technique is quite different in principle from the stimulated emission depletion method but it achieves similar resolution, in the nanometer range. The original technology developed by Betzig (PALM = Photo-Activated Localization Microscopy) makes use of the photo activation of few molecules in a field of view and then localizing their point of emission with a precision that only depends on the number of photons collected rather than on the wavelength of light. This method and many variants of the principle are now utilized in many laboratories around the world and in commercial instruments. Using this technique, we are now able to visualize cellular structures with nanometer resolution using fluorescent molecules.

Moerner is one of the first scientists who were able to produce images of isolated single molecules. His landmark work demonstrated that separated single molecules can be imaged, and their spectroscopic properties analyzed. The field of single fluorescent molecule spectroscopy has had a tremendous impact in our understanding of the interactions and the dynamics of single molecules.

The recipients will receive their awards on December 10th at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, Sweden.

About the Biophysical Society

The Biophysical Society, founded in 1958, is a professional, scientific society established to encourage development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics. The Society promotes growth in this expanding field through its annual meeting, monthly journal, and committee and outreach activities. Its 9000 members are located throughout the U.S. and the world, where they teach and conduct research in colleges, universities laboratories, government agencies, and industry. For more information, visit www.biophysics.org