Third Prize 2002

Dr. Stefan Hell, Marcus Dyba and Dr. Alexander Egner, 
Max Planck Institute f0r Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany
Optical Nanoscopy with Ultra-Short-Pulse Laser and Stimulated Emission

Marcus Dyba, Dr. Stefan Hell, Dr. Alexander Egner (from left)
A new microscopy method with ultra-short-pulse lasers has made it possible, for the first time, to take pictures of the interior of a living cell. This technology permits new insights and findings for research into biological life in the nanometer range. In the post-genome age, it also supports the development of new therapies and new medication.
For centuries, the microscope has aided research into small and invisible structures. In medicine in particular, since Louis Pasteur's discovery of cholera bacterium, the microscope has played a pivotal role. It was quickly discovered that an optical microscope, however technologically perfected, cannot enlarge images infinitely. There is a limit to the resolution, dictated by the wavelength, the “length” of light. It has a fundamentally limiting effect on maximum magnification. This means that structures smaller than half a thousandth of a millimeter cannot be observed with a conventional microscope. One solution to this problem was the electron microscope – but it requires specially prepared probes, so examination of the “living” is ruled out. Patented by Dr. Hell, so-called 4Pi STED fluorescence microscopy is providing images of what goes on inside living cells for the very first time.

Bypassing the Physical Limits to Resolution

Unlike conventional microscopy, the object itself is not observed, but rather special molecules that attach themselves to the object under examination, glowing after light excitation. Combining this so-called fluorescence microscopy with the possibilities of modern lasers that can generate ultra-short pulses of less than a millionth of a millionth of a second, the fundamental physical barrier to resolution can be bypassed. The basic ideas here are anything but obvious and the technology is extraordinarily complex to implement. At the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Dr. Hell and his two B.Sc. assistants Marcus Dyba and Alexander Egner have shown great ingenuity, as well as thorough research and development skills, in recognizing the potential of the very latest laser technology—and then successfully implementing it.
They have made a breakthrough in optical microscopy that represents a highly valuable contribution to cell research. Subject to licensing, a German company is planning to implement a suitable product.

Third Prize 2002 - Hell, Dyba, Egner