How To Take A Nobel Prize-Winning Picture

How To Take A Nobel Prize-Winning Picture

5:32pm Oct 10, 2014
This scale shows the tiniest things you can see with a light microscope.
This scale shows the tiniest things you can see with a light microscope.
Johan Jarnestad / Courtesy of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  • This scale shows the tiniest things you can see with a light microscope.

    This scale shows the tiniest things you can see with a light microscope.

    Johan Jarnestad / Courtesy of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

  • Single-molecule microscopy, one component of the Nobel Prize-winning technique.

    Single-molecule microscopy, one component of the Nobel Prize-winning technique.

    Johan Jarnestad / Courtesy of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

  • The STED microscope, used to fluoresce and suppress molecules.

    The STED microscope, used to fluoresce and suppress molecules.

    Ansgar Pudenz / Courtesy of German Future Prize

  • The technique allows us to see living cells at incredible resolution.

    The technique allows us to see living cells at incredible resolution.

    U. Valentin Nägerl / Courtesy of Université de Bordeaux

  • The new microscopy technique (lower right) brings into focus details of cell structures never seen before with light.

    The new microscopy technique (lower right) brings into focus details of cell structures never seen before with light.

    Courtesy of A. Honigmann, C. Eggeling and S.W. Hell, MPI Göttingen

  • The new microscopy technique (lower right) brings into focus details of cell structures never seen before with light.

    The new microscopy technique (lower right) brings into focus details of cell structures never seen before with light.

    Courtesy of A. Honigmann, C. Eggeling and S.W. Hell, MPI Göttinge

The Nobel Prize for chemistry just went to a team that discovered a better way to take a picture. Really.

Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner received about $1.1 million and a lifetime of adding "Nobel Prize winner" to their biographies for creating a new way for scientists to look at living cells — peering closer than ever before, or even thought possible.

The method, called super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, is based on the principles behind two separate techniques: Stimulated emission depletion — STED— microscopy, which uses a laser to light up molecules in certain areas of the cell, and single-molecule microscopy, which stacks together many images of fluoresced molecules to reveal fine details.

The approach offers scientists new ways to study how molecules move inside living cells. It could eventually help researchers better understand the connections among nerve cells in the brain, or among proteins involved in diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntington's.

Since the development of basic techniques behind super-resolved microscopy in 2000 (STED) and 2006 (single-molecule), many researchers have used variations of the method to create their own detailed images. And if you're itching to try, you can too — just don't expect a Nobel Prize for it. Here's Shots' guide to making your own:

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Support your
public radio station