SCIENCE
10/08/2014 05:55 am ET Updated Oct 09, 2014

Nobel Prize For Chemistry 2014: Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell And William E. Moerner Honored For Development Of Super-Resolved Fluorescence Microscopy

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded on Wednesday to Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner for "the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy."

In the past, the use of microscopes was limited by a physical restriction; scientists could only see items that were larger than roughly half the wavelength of light (.2 micrometers). However, the groundbreaking work of the Nobel laureates bypassed the maximum resolution of traditional microscopes and launched optical microscopy into the nanodeminsion.

With nanoscopy, scientists could observe viruses, proteins and molecules there are smaller than 0.0000002 metres.

Hell, 52, of Germany, is the director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the division head at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. He was honored for his work on fluorescence microscopy, a kind of nano-flashlight where scientists use fluorescent molecules to see parts of a cell. Later in his career, he developed the STED microscope, which collects light from "a multitude of small volumes to create a whole."

Moerner, a 61-year-old professor in chemistry and applied physics at Stanford University in California, is the recipient of the 2008 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the 2009 Irving Langmuir Award and the 2013 Peter Debye Award. In 1989, he was the first scientist to be able to measure the light absorption of a single molecule. This inspired many chemists to begin focusing on single molecules, including Betzig.

Betzig, 54, the group leader at Janelia Farm Research campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Virginia, developed new optical imaging tools for biology. His work involved taking images of the same area multiple times, and illuminating just a few molecules each time. These images were then superimposed to create a dense super image at the nano level, The Times of India reported.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm awards the Nobel Prize in Chemistry annually to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement." It is one of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, in his will in 1895.

Between 1901 and 2013, more than 560 Nobel Prizes were awarded to 876 people and organizations. Nobel laureates receive the title, a diploma, a gold medal and about $1.1 million in award money. If two winners are chosen for a single category, the prize is split in half. When more than two people or organizations are selected, the prize is distributed at the judges' discretion.

Since 1901, 105 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded. The youngest person to become a Nobel laureate in chemistry was Frederic Joliot, who was just 35 when he received the prize in 1935 for his work in the synthesis of new radioactive elements.

Only four women have been awarded the chemistry prize, including Marie Curie who also won a Nobel in physics. And only one person -- Frederick Sanger -- has been awarded the chemistry prize twice.

Click here for a complete list of past laureates in this category.

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