Optics Is Nobel Pursuit

    Date Posted: 
    Wednesday, October 8, 2014

    The Nobel Foundation announced its latest prizewinners in physics and chemistry this week, and optical technologies are at the center of both awards.

    Close-up photo of Nobel medal

    On Oct. 7, the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources." These blue LEDs, first created in the early 1990s, exponentially expanded the options for efficient illumination. R. John Koshel, associate dean for academic programs at OSC, commented on their impact to the field of optics and the world in a recent SPIE release. More information is available from the Optical Society (OSA) and SPIE.

    On Oct. 8, the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy." Fluorescent microscopy had been hobbled by Abbe resolution limits until Hell's stimulated emission depletion microscopy and the single-molecule microscopy techniques developed by both Betzig and Moerner gave them insight all the way into the nanoscale.

    Betzig, who leads a research group on the Janelia Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, delivered a 2009 College of Optical Sciences Colloquium lecture, "Pushing the Envelope in Biological Imaging," which described much of his work on the award-winning technology. Video from that presentation is available online. OSA and SPIE offer articles further exploring highest-resolution fluorescent microscopy.

    OSC's own Nicolaas Bloembergen, Roy J. Glauber and Willis E. Lamb Jr. were each honored with Nobel physics awards, in 1981, 2005 and 1955 respectively.

    As the United Nations gears up to International Year of Light 2015, this recognition serves to further underscore the importance of light-based science and technology to economy and culture around the world.