STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Two Americans and a German on Wednesday won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for laying the foundations of an ultra-powerful microscope capable of studying tissue down to the molecular level.
The tool has revolutionised research into diseases and drug design, the Nobel jury said, as it lauded Americans Eric Betzig and William Moerner and Germany’s Stefan Hell.
“Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nano-dimension,” it said.
“Today, nanoscopy is used worldwide and new knowledge of the greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.”
Working separately, the trio overcame a theorised limit in optical microscopy – that the resolution of an image would never be better than 200 nanometres (200 billionths of a metre), which is half the wavelength of light.
The basis of their work uses laser beams to excite fluorescent molecules so that they glow, and then cancelling or filtering out some of the fluorescence to get precise images rather than blurring.
With nanoscopy, scientists visualise the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells and can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain.
“They can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilised eggs as these divide into embryos,” the jury said.
The trio will share the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.1 million, 876,000 euros).
In line with tradition, the laureates will receive their prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.
Last year’s honour went to Martin Karplus, a US-Austrian citizen, Michael Levitt, a US-British citizen, and Arieh Warshel of the US and Israel for developing computer models to simulate chemical processes.