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Hansen Family Award 2011 goes to Stefan Hell

The researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg was awarded the prize for his breakthroughs in the field of microscopy. The award from the “Bayer Science and Education Foundation” is one of the most prestigious scientific prizes in Germany endowed with 75,000 Euro.

“The work of Professor Hell is an impressive testimony of the high standard of scientific research in Germany. Until recently it was unthinkable what his work has now enabled in the field of light microscopy: an insight into living cells and tissues,” said Dr. Marijn Dekkers, Head of the Executive Board of Bayer AG, at the official presentation of the Hansen Family Award 2011 on 15 March 2011 in Berlin.

With his initially very unusual ideas, the winner Prof. Dr. Stefan W. Hell changed textbook knowledge. “Professor Hell had a strong belief that he could break the diffraction limit in light microscopes discovered by Abbe. With the help of physics, he has overcome the apparently insurmountable barrier to achieve something which is very helpful in medicine and biology,” said Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, Bayer’s Head of Research, explaining the decision of the Board of Trustees.

The findings of the Göttingen physicist have revolutionized light microscopy and led to a new class of microscopes, which can look significantly deeper into the molecular scale of life. The Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) microscopy and related methods, invented and developed by Hell, allow an up to ten times greater detailed observation in living cells and make structures visible that are much smaller than 200 nanometers. With this, one can separately observe fluorescence-tagged protein complexes of the size of 20 to 50 nanometers, structures that are about 1000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. With this level of resolution achieved by Hell, “the dynamics of intercellular events is possible to observe – and will probably show us something new like the light microscope did four hundred years ago,” said Prof. Dr. Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Program Organization and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The awardee stressed in his speech, “It gives me and my co-workers great pleasure to see that this breakthrough in the field of applied physics has found its way into biology and medicine and, in the end, will benefit all.”

Personal data:
Stefan W. Hell (born in 1962) received his doctorate in physics from the University of Heidelberg in 1990, followed by a research stay at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. From 1993 to 1996, he worked as a senior researcher at the University of Turku, Finland, where he developed the principle of STED microscopy. In 1996, he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, where he built up his current research group dedicated to sub-diffraction-resolution microscopy. He was appointed a Max Planck Director in 2002 and currently leads the Department of NanoBiophotonics at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the Department of Optical Nanoscopy at the German Cancer Research Center. He is an honorary professor of experimental physics at the University of Göttingen and adjunct professor of physics at the University of Heidelberg. Stefan Hell has received numerous national and international awards, including the Prize of the International Commission for Optics (2000), the Carl Zeiss Research Award (2002), the Innovation Award of the German Federal President (2006), the Julius Springer Award for Applied Physics (2007), the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (2008), the Lower Saxony State Award (2008), the Otto Hahn Prize (2009), and the Ernst Hellmut Vits Prize (2010).
Background information on the Hansen Family Award:
The Hansen Family Award honors scientists who have made pioneering research contributions in innovative fields of biology and medicine. It has been presented by the Bayer Science & Education Foundation since 2000 in memory of its endower Professor Kurt Hansen. The former Chairman of the Board of Management and the Supervisory Board of Bayer AG established the award in 1999 out of “gratitude for a fulfilled life as a natural scientist and business manager”. The foundation honors outstanding research achievements every two years with the Hansen Family Award and the alternate year with the Otto Bayer Award, each of which carries a purse of 75,000 Euro.
Prof. Dr. Stefan W. Hell, Department of NanoBiophotonics
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
Phone: +49 551 / 201-2500, -2503
Fax: +49 551 / 201-2505
Dr. Carmen Rotte, Public relations office
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
Phone: +49 551 / 201-1304
Fax: +49 551 / 201-1151
Please find the original press release including a high-resolution picture for download following the link at

Dr. Carmen Rotte | Max-Planck-Institut
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