Hefty German scientist Dr Stefan Hell - and American colleagues Eric Betzig and William Moerner - have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their development of super-high-res microscopes: so hi-res, in fact, that they are really nano-scopes.
"Due to their achievements the optical microscope can now peer into the nanoworld," enthuses the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, conferring the prestigious boffinry gong upon the brainy trio.
The Swedish science judges go on to explain just how the three eminent scientists managed to get past the justifiably presumed limit on optical microscopy, that of half a wavelength of the light frequencies used:
Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Stefan Hell in 2000. Two laser beams are utilized; one stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow, another cancels out all fluorescence except for that in a nanometre-sized volume. Scanning over the sample, nanometre for nanometre, yields an image with a resolution better than Abbe's stipulated limit.
Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.
Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.
Nanoscopes are particularly useful in spying out complex chemicals and prcesses of the sort involved in such diseases as Huntingdon's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, so it would be possible to argue that nanoscopy could just as well have come under advances in biology. But the fact is that in boffinry at this level, fields tend to overlap a lot - and it would be hard to argue that this isn't Nobel-calibre work, wherever you choose to file it.
The full announcement from the Swedes is here. ®