How Fluorescence Microscopy Can Now Provide Images on The Nanoscale

„What if we could use a microscope to look at living cells and be able to see not only their shapes, but every single detail inside of them – down to the individual molecules?“ Some 25 years ago, scientists would have thought this utterly unthinkable, as the prevailing theory said that light microscopy could under no circumstances observe anything smaller than half the wavelength of light – 0.2 micrometers. This barrier had been brought into existence in 1873 by Ernst Abbe, an optics and microscopy expert, and at the time a co-owner of Carl-Zeiss. Until well into the 20th century, Abbe’s theoretical limit went unchallenged, and it was only in the 1990s when scientists found ways to undermine and eventually prove it wrong. Stefan Hell, a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, has pioneered this breakthrough development towards what is today known as nanoscopy –  a technique which makes it possible to visualize the movement and interaction of molecules in living cells at the nanoscale. The extremely high-resolved images allow a large variety of uses such as the monitoring of disease-related proteins and the study of individual synapses in action. At Falling Walls, Hell explains how breaking Abbe’s barrier to nanoscale microscopy opened up a new dimension of human perception – and countless new possibilities for research and application.

Stefan W. Hell

Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

Stefan W. Hell is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and Optical Nanoscopy Division Head at German Cancer Research Center. His research group, Stefan Hell Lab, is focused on conceiving, inventing and utilizing optical microscopes with resolution at the nanometer scale to advance natural sciences. Stefan Hell received the Nobel Laureate 2014.