The Resolution Revolution
Speaker: Stefan Hell, Ph.D., Director of Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
It’s been widely accepted throughout the 20th century that a light microscope using conventional optical lenses could not distinguish details finer than about half the wavelength of light, or 200-400 nanometers, due to diffraction – the slight bending of light as it passes around the edge of an object. This presumed limitation prevented scientists from studying individual molecules within living cells. However, in the 1990s, visionary scientists, among them, Dr. Stefan Hell, discovered methods to bypass this diffraction limit. Dr. Hell’s method of stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy uses laser beams and fluorescence to allow researchers to study living cells at molecular dimensions. In this lecture, Dr. Hell discusses the simple yet powerful principles used to overcome the diffraction limit and bring about the entirely new field of imaging known as nanoscopy – allowing researchers to see things they’ve never before been able to, like how molecules build connections between nerve cells in the brain or the interactions between proteins involved in Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. The development of this significant advancement in research technology earned Dr. Hell the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014.