Was tiny chemist Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory not even a candidate? The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists who focus (literally) on the less than microscopic for “surpassing the limitations of the light microscope.” Two Germans, Eric Betzig and Stefan W. Hell, and American William E. Moerner were cited for “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.” In a press release, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences praised the chemists for getting around a long-time problem with microscopes. “For a long time 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 the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 ingeniously circumvented this limitation. Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.”
Nanoscopy allows scientists to “visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells.” While the issue might seem microscopic, the potentials for advances in science are massive. “They 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 fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.” Dr. Hell – awesome supervillain name, by the way – said he was “totally surprised” to win, while his colleague Dr. Betzig, who learned the news while at a conference in Munich, felt “elation and fear — the fear that being my life is busy enough and happy enough, and it doesn’t need to be perturbed too much.” Considering Dr. Betzig has just won Chemistry’s biggest prize, he should learn not to sweat the small stuff. Study it by all means, but don’t sweat it.