Photonics again: SPIE congratulates Chemistry Nobel prize winners


08 October 2014

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- For the second time in as many days, photonics has been central to a Nobel Prize. William Moerner, Stefan Hell, and Eric Betzig are the recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy."

For years optical microscopy was held back by a presumed limitation: that it would never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light. Helped by fluorescent molecules, this year's chemistry laureates ingeniously circumvented this limitation. Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.

The Nobel Prize in Physics, announced the previous day, recognized the developers of the blue light-emitting diode.

Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura are receiving the physics prize for their invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which have enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.

SPIE President H. Philip Stahl and President-Elect Toyohiko Yatagai noted the significance of the double win for photonics.

"I congratulate our fellow members, colleagues and friends for the recognition by the Nobel committee of their groundbreaking work," said Stahl. "Much of it was presented and discussed at SPIE events and published in SPIE proceedings and journals. The development of blue LEDs and super-resolved fluorescence microscopy are perfect examples of how optical and photonic scientists and engineers use light-based technology to solve problems and make our world a better place to live."

"This is wonderful news!" Yatagai said. "It is no coincidence that 2015 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Light. We are entering a new era of light, and light-based technologies will break fresh ground, changing all our lifestyles. It is my pleasure that our society could contribute to this challenge."

SPIE member William "W. E." Moerner has presented more than 60 papers at SPIE conferences. He will deliver a keynote on "Extracting information from single molecules in 3D super-resolution imaging and from dynamical processes in solution" as well as three other coauthored papers at SPIE Photonics West.

Over three decades, Stefan Hell has given plenary talks, taught short courses, and served on the editorial board of the SPIE Journal of Biomedical Optics for 15 years. Moerner and Hell have both appeared in SPIE videos.

Eric Betzig is coauthor of three papers also scheduled for presentation at SPIE Photonics West.

Daniel Farkas, chair of the microscopy and imaging track at Photonics West, called the microscope "an icon of the sciences -- and in the hands of these innovative scientists and their followers, it has been enhanced to better probe and reveal the intricacies of living matter, down to the molecular level," he said. "This ever-increasing resolution is not forbidden but rather enabled by the underlying physics and chemistry, making for an elegant and highly useful research tool that will undoubtedly continue to flourish and yield new results. Those of us in the biophotonics community are proud of our colleagues' achievements, and sincerely congratulate them."

Bruce Tromberg, Beckman Laser Institute director at UC Irvine, said the award reflects on the importance of "fundamental principles of optics and photonics. Their impact has extended deeply into biology and medicine through innovative concepts and multidisciplinary collaborations," he said. "This further reinforces the importance of optics and photonics as a powerful, enabling technology that drives innovation and discovery, stimulates new fields such as biophotonics and, we hope, will lead to more prizes to come."

The SPIE Newsroom has videos and interviews of two of the Nobel Prize winners.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.


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