Update: Turns out 2 of the Nobel Prize recipients have Cornell ties, not just one. We’ve updated the story.

Two Cornell graduates have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry along with one other scientist.

Eric Betzig

Eric Betzig, who earned a master’s degree in 1985 and his Ph.D. from the Big Red in 1988, received the highest prize on Wednesday.

William Moerner got his master’s degree in 1978 from Cornell and his Ph.D. in 1982, both in physics.

Here’s how the committee describes the breakthrough achieved by Betzig and their colleague Stefan W. Hell:

“For a long time optical microscopy was held back by a presumed limitation: that it would never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light. Helped by fluorescent molecules the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 ingeniously circumvented this limitation. Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.


Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.

Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.

Betzig, born in 1960 in Michigan, was the Group Leader at the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia.


Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.