Stefan W. Hell

Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry


Election Year: 2016
Primary Section: 29, Biophysics and Computational Biology
Secondary Section: 13, Physics
Membership Type: Foreign Associate

Biosketch

Stefan W. Hell is a physicist recognized for his pioneering research in far-field optical nanoscopy, also known as super-resolution microscopy. Hell was the first to demonstrate how one can decouple the resolution of a lens-based fluorescence microscope from diffraction and increase it down to a fraction of the wavelength of light, to the nanometer scale. Ever since the work of Ernst Abbe (1873) this feat had been believed impossible. After studies in Heidelberg (PhD in 1990) and postdoctoral work at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Hell laid out the principle of STED microscopy while on a research fellowship in Turku, Finland (1994). STED (standing for Stimulated Emission Depletion of the molecular fluorescent state) became the first viable proposal for a diffraction-unlimited fluorescence microscopy. The underlying idea, namely of discerning molecules (at subdiffraction length scales) by transiently preparing a subset of them in a non-signaling state, underlies all the practical diffraction-unlimited super-resolution fluorescence microscopy concepts to date. For these achievements and their significance for other fields, Hell has received numerous awards. In 2014 he shared the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Hell is a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, and at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg (both Germany).

Research Interests

Stefan W. Hell and his laboratory continue to invent and apply microscopy methods with nanoscale spatial resolution. The result of this work is the growing availability of optical nanoscopes providing much sharper images of the detailed arrangements of molecules, for example within cells and tissues, than was possible only a decade ago. Research activities in this new field are growing rapidly worldwide, largely because of the potential of these new methods to impact biological and biomedical discoveries at a deeper level.

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