It’s entirely appropriate that the man whose research is opening new frontiers in light microscopy has “Hell” as a surname. The term is the German word for “bright.” The future looks very bright indeed for Professor Stefan Hell, the 2014 Nobel Chemistry Prize winner and startup founder who has developed a new generation of fluorescence microscopes that are revolutionizing medical research.
The physicist and chemist comes from the Banat Swabian German-speaking minority in Romania and started his education at the German school in Timisoara – as did Nobel Literary Prize winner Herta Müller. He received his doctorate in physics at Heidelberg University in 1990. Between 1991 and 1993 he went on to develop the 4Pi microscope, a laser scanning fluorescence microscope with dramatically improved resolution over existing microscopes.
Then, as a group leader in the department of medical physics at the University of Turku in Finland, he finally broke through a barrier that had flummoxed microscopy researchers since the time of microscopy and optics pioneer Karl Abbe in the late 19th Century. The team had found a way to make a fluorescence microscope capable of resolving images at half the wavelength of light, providing much clearer images of tiny samples such as cells.
It was for his work in the development of so-called super-resolved fluorescence microscopy that Professor Hell, along with his co-researchers Eric Betzig and William Moerner, received the Nobel Prize.