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SPIE Photonics West 2019 | Call for Papers

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Biomedical Optics & Medical Imaging

W.E. Moerner: The Story of Photonics and Single Molecules, from Early Spectroscopy in Solids, to Super-resolution Nanoscopy in Cells and Beyond

A plenary presentation from SPIE Photonics West 2018.

9 March 2018, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201803.15

W. E. Moerner, Stanford University (USA)At a lively SPIE Fellows Luncheon at Photonics West, SPIE Fellow and Chemistry Nobel Laureate W.E. Moerner gives a presentation on photonics and single molecules, "from early spectroscopy in solids to Super-Resolution (SR), nanoscopy in cells and beyond," a story, as he notes, about optics, detection, lasers and biology. And, as it turns out, a story that also includes a Simpsons reference.

With an introduction that re-visits his early steps toward single-molecule detection and spectroscopy at IBM, he refers to the parts of the process as "beautiful, fascinating science," as well as acknowledging and appreciating that "all of this was work done at one of the great industrial research labs at the time where you could not only explore new technologies, but fundamental science as well."

Moerner then outlines current work including TILT3D technology, built on a standard inverted microscope, which utilizes tilted light sheet microscopy. Accompanying slide images included Spectrin in axon; DNA locations in the nucleus; mutant Htt proteins; and subdiffraction structures in bacteria.

As for that Simpsons reference, it is the answer to a self-generated question, "What's better than winning the Nobel Prize?" His answer: your name appearing as part of a betting pool of potential Nobel Prize-winners in which Milhouse bets on you to win. (The Simpsons, Season 22, episode 1, September 26, 2010.)


W. E. Moerner, the Harry S. Mosher Professor of Chemistry and professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University, conducts research in physical chemistry of single molecules, biophysics, nanoparticle trapping, and nanophotonics. He earned three bachelor's degrees from Washington University in 1975 and master's and doctoral degrees from Cornell University in 1978 and 1982.

Moerner is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and co-recipient of the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (with Allen Bard) in 2008. He and Bard were cited for "the ingenious creation of a new field of science, single molecule spectroscopy and electrochemistry, with impact at the nanoscopic regime, from the molecular and cellular domain to complex material systems."

Related SPIE content:

W. E. Moerner video: Super resolution and the double helix point spread function
The ability to switch single molecule emissions on and off enables imaging beyond the diffraction limit.

W.E. Moerner: Single-molecule spectroscopy, imaging, and photocontrol -- foundations for super-resolution microscopy
Presented at SPIE Photonics West 2015.