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A close-up view of Nobel Prize Chemistry winner Eric Betzig

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 00:37

Dr. Eric Betzig is one of three recipients of this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In 2011, he showed Reuters what his team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute calls the ''Bessel beam plane illumination microscope.'' Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) A German and two American scientists won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for smashing the size barrier in optical microscopes, allowing researchers to see individual molecules inside living cells. U.S. citizens Eric Betzig and William Moerner and Germany's Stefan Hell won the prize for using fluorescence to take microscopes to a new level, making it possible to study things like the creation of synapses between brain cells in real time. One of Betzig's major projects is what he and his team at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farms Research Campus call the "Bessel beam plane illumination microscope". It projects ultra-thin sheets of light to take multiple pictures of cell slices from above and beside the cell. The pictures are then stacked on top of one another to create a full three dimensional image. "With this microscope we're able to see the three-dimensional totality and furthermore, watch the dynamics of what that cell is doing in real time," he said. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences credited the three scientists' achievements for allowing the optical microscrope to now peer into the nanoworld. Back in 1873, scientists thought there was a limit to what could be seen when Ernst Abbe stipulated that the resolution of an optical microscope could never be better than 0.2 micrometres, or 500 times smaller than the width of a human hair. But the three Nobel winners bypassed this limit by scanning fluorescent molecules to build up a far more detailed images, leading to the creation of "nanoscopy", now used widely to peer into the internal molecular machinery of cells. Modern nanoscale microscopes can follow individual proteins to better understand diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's or to track the development of fertilised eggs as they divide and become embryos. Betzig is a physicist but his invention is designed for biologists studying the complex inner workings of a cell. In a 2011 interview with Reuters, Betzig said conventional microscopy techniques require that cells be killed and fixed in position for imaging which limits the amount of information that can be gleaned. Live cell study techniques have also been problematic because long term exposure to the light from conventional microscopes can damage the cells being studied. Dr. Betzig's invention eliminates that problem. The Bessel beam sweeps across the cell at great speed allowing scientists to take up to 200 images per second which can then be viewed in great detail on a computer screen. "In essence we're imaging the same cell for anywhere from forty to a hundred thousand times to create one of the movies that we see," said Betzig. Chemistry was the third of this year's Nobel prizes. The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will. The chemistry prize has often lived in the shadow of physics and its star scientists such as Albert Einstein, though it was the field that was arguably closest to the heart of Nobel's own work developing dynamite and other explosives. As winners of the chemistry prize, the laureates enter an exclusive club of researchers such as nuclear pioneer Ernest Rutherford and Linus Pauling, the only person to win two Nobels on his own -- for chemistry in 1954 and peace in 1962.

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A close-up view of Nobel Prize Chemistry winner Eric Betzig

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 - 00:37