Radio Amateur is Among Nobel Prize in Chemistry Winners


A California radio amateur and ARRL member was among the three winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. William Moerner, WN6I, of Los Altos, a chemistry professor at Stanford University, will share the prestigious award equally with two other researchers — Eric Betzig and Stefan Hell — for their work in high-resolution microscopy or nanoscopy. For many years scientists had believed that an optical microscope could never yield better than 0.2 micrometer resolution. The three scientists overcame that limitation through what the Nobel panel called “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”

I was just incredibly excited and thrilled, and, of course, your heart races, and you say ‘Oh, can this be? Can this be?’” was how Moerner reacted when formally notified that he was a prize winner. “I’m incredibly happy about the recognition of the field, especially of all the workers and all the scientists at many places around the world who have contributed to the effort.” In Brazil for a conference, Moerner had already heard the news from his wife, who learned of it from an Associated Press reporter who had called their home for a comment.

As a Stanford University news release explained,Optical microscopy was long limited by the presumption that it could never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light. Moerner, Betzig, and Hell circumvented this limitation through the clever implementation of fluorescent molecules, which made it possible for optical microscopes to operate at the nanoscale and visualize individual molecules moving within cells.”

This year’s chemistry prize recognized two separate techniques. Working separately, Betzig, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Moerner laid the foundation for single-molecule microscopy, in which the fluorescence of individual molecules is turned on and off. The same area is imaged multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time, and superimposing these images “yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel,” Stanford said. Hell’s stimulated emission depletion microscopy method uses one laser beam to stimulate fluorescent molecules and another to cancel all but a nanometer-sized area to yield a high-resolution image. Hell is with the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany.

Moerner holds a PhD from Cornell University and is the Harry S. Mosher Professor in Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University. The prizes will be awarded in Stockholm on December 10, the date that prize founder Alfred Nobel died in 1896. — Thanks to Dave Leeson, W6NL; Stanford University