“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.”
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