Chemists Look Close for the Nobel

SCIENCE

Three researchers won a Nobel Prize for giving microscopes much sharper vision than was thought possible, letting scientists peer into living cells with unprecedented detail to seek the roots of disease. (Associated Press)

Use our resources to peer into “Mysteries of the Unseen World.”

Thanks to our “Mystery” educator, Elaine, who submitted our open-ended question below! What can you think to do with electron, tunneling, or fluorescence microscopes?

This is the nucleus of a bone cancer cell. Using normal high resolution fluorescence microscopy, it is not possible to distinguish details of its structure. With super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, scientists can identify more than 100,000 proteins (appearing as different colors) altering the DNA structure of the bone cell. This view has an optical depth of about 600 nanometers. Read more about the nanoscale here. Super-resolved fluorescence microscopy was pioneered by chemists, physicists, and engineers—including three who won the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Photograph by Andy Nestl, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This is the nucleus of a bone cancer cell. Using normal high resolution fluorescence microscopy, it is not possible to distinguish details of its structure. With super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, scientists can identify more than 100,000 proteins (appearing as different colors) altering the DNA structure of the bone cell. This view has an optical depth of about 600 nanometers. Read more about the nanoscale here. Super-resolved fluorescence microscopy was pioneered by chemists, physicists, and engineers—including three who won the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Photograph by Andy Nestl, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Discussion Ideas

 

  • If super-resolved fluorescence microscopy doesn’t provide the most hi-res images, why is it so important?
    • Super-resolved fluorescence microscopy can focus on living cells, a breathtaking achievement with implications for the study of diseases and how they develop. (Just take a super-resolved fluorescence microscopy look at the bone cancer above.)

 

  • Take a look at our media spotlight “Human Body: Microscopic Images.” How do the sizes of the objects in this gallery measure up to the ones using super-resolved fluorescence microscopy?
    • Our electron microscope images focus on much, much larger objects—even though they’re still microscopic! (Note: This isn’t because electron microscopes can’t give greater focus, it’s just that this gallery doesn’t.) For instance, the dazzling “blood clot” image in the “Human Body” gallery displays individual red and white blood cells. The image at the top of this page, on the other hand, shows the nucleus of a single cell, with individual molecules (proteins) in sharp relief. Or take a (super-resolved fluorescence microscopy) look at a this, a mitosis anaphase image every high school student knows by heart.

 

  • Advanced imaging tools and techniques, including scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), now enable scientists and non-scientists to observe and better understand the micro and nano scales—opening up a world of tiny things and offering new challenges and opportunities. What can scientists discover and do with this technology that makes an impact on our lives and our world?

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Washington Post: 3 win chemistry Nobel for super-zoom microscopes

NG collection: Mysteries of the Unseen World Education

Nobel PrizeHow the optical microscope became a nanoscope

NG Media Spotlight: Visible Light

NG Media Spotlight: Human Body: Microscopic Images

Wikimedia: Dividing Cell Fluorescence; an image of a human cancer cell dividing

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