One of the winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry is Prof. Stefan Hell, of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. Prof. Hell has been the recipient of four Marie Skłodowska Curie (MSCA) grants and with his research has helped open a window onto the nanoworld. The prize was shared with the Americans Eric Betzig and William Moerner, with the three winners having developed a ‘super-resolved fluorescence microscopy’.
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.
The Nobel Prize rewards two separate approaches to the same principle. One is called Stimulated Emission Depletion (Sted) microscopy, developed in 2000 by Prof Hell. The other is single-molecule microscopy, devised by Prof Betzig and Prof Moerner, both based in the US but working separately.
Addressing the news conference in Stockholm, Prof Hell said: "I got bored with the topic; I felt this was 19th century physics. I was wondering if there was still something profound that could be made with light microscopy. So I saw that the diffraction barrier was the only important problem that had been left over. Eventually I realised there must be a way by playing with the molecules, trying to turn the molecules on and off allows you to see adjacent things you couldn't see before."
Of Romanian origin but with German nationality, Prof. Hell has received support throughout his career from the EU's Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). He was an MSCA fellow at the University of Turku in 1996-1997, and then scientific coordinator for three MSCA individual fellowships, thus becoming a mentor for several promising MSCA fellows. His latest MSCA project ended in May this year and was managed by the Research Executive Agency (REA).
During an interview to a publication the Götteburg University, Prof Hell acknowledged the incentive given by the MSCA actions in overcoming the setbacks he encountered during his research: "I managed to get another stipend, an EU Marie-Curie fellowship, and also some money from a local company in Turku, in exchange for a patent license. I could thus proceed”.
Commissioners Vassiliou and Geoghegan-Quinn warmly welcomed the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Professors Betzig, Hell and Moerner. In a joint statement they said “Outstanding researchers like Stefan W. Hell are an excellent example of what European research mobility can achieve, and through his mentoring of younger MSCA researchers, in fostering excellence in the new generation of researchers in Europe”.
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions support the career development and training of researchers - with a focus on innovation skills - in all scientific disciplines, based on trans-national and cross-sectoral mobility.
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