By Lynn Savage
What does it take to become a VIP of the research world — someone who, to most people, is miles ahead of anyone else in their scientific field? For the average citizen of the world, these things are measured by awards — not the number, but which ones.
Among all of the myriad ways a scientist may come into a modicum of public attention, none is more prominent than the Nobel Prize. Although there has been the occasional controversy throughout the century-plus that the Nobels have been awarded, winners of the Physics, Chemistry, and Medicine prizes well represent the drive, patience, hard work, and creative spark needed to break ground for entire new realms of discovery and progress.
Perhaps not too amazingly, the field of photonics has been extraordinarily well represented lately by Nobel Prize winners. In the past decade, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has deemed worthy of a Prize several light-driven discoveries, ranging from the creation of the charge-coupled device (CCD) to development of the quantum theory of optical coherence, and from the discovery and development of green fluorescent protein to the establishment of novel ways to see beyond the diffraction limit with powerful microscopes.
Amazingly, CLEO: 2015 will provide attendees the opportunity to hear no fewer than four Nobel Prize winners describe their research during the Plenary Session: Eric Betzig, Steven Chu, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura.
Eric Betzig, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry in 2014, will discuss his work in the field of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy. A member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research
Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, USA, Betzig will describe three distinctly different super-resolution microscopy techniques in his talk, “Imaging life at High Spatiotemporal Resolution.”
Betzig will focus on ways he and other researchers continue to seek ways to improve the ability of optical microscopes to see the most minute features of tiny biological structures. To exceed the formidable threshold of the diffraction limit of 200 nm, microscopists must juggle spatial resolution, speed and non-invasiveness. Betzig and his colleagues first broached the 200-nm resolution mark with a technique they dubbed photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), one of the first successes at using fluorescent molecules to illuminate neighboring targets of interest to the viewers, such as individual cells. Betzig’s work earned him a share of the chemistry Nobel with Stefan W. Hell of Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany, and William Moerner of Stanford University in California, USA.
Steven Chu of Stanford University, California, USA, the US Secretary of Energy from 2009 to 2013, was also a Nobel Prize Winner. He, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and William Daniel Phillips were awarded the Physics Prize in 1997 for their work with laser-based cooling and trapping of atoms. In his plenary discussion, “Microscopy 2.0,” Chu will explore the evolution of imaging techniques that have improved biologists’ understanding of living systems at the level of genes and proteins.
According to Chu, “the visualization of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick led [to] a true understanding of the concept of genes, transcription, and translation. In recent years, the invention of new imaging technologies is having a profound impact on biological sciences.”
Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University, Japan, and Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara, won (alongside Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan) the 2014 Nobel in Physics for work that gave the world blue light-emitting diodes. This was a culminated effort as complex as it is important to many industries, and Amano and Nakamura will lead discussions on the ultimate value to society of LED-based technology.
Amano’s talk, “Current and Future of Solid-State Lighting” will provide an overview of the technology and relate several of the ongoing technical challenges remaining to be solved. Nakamura will discuss the ways in which LED lighting systems can reduce global energy demand in his talk, “Energy Savings by LED Lighting.”
In addition, Tony Heinz of Columbia University in New York City, USA, will discuss “Electrons in Atomically Thin Two-Dimensional Crystals,” referring to graphene. He will describe the state-of-the-art of these 2-D lattices of carbon atoms, including the known properties of electrons confined to this single-atom-thick material, the interactions of light and matter along the surface of a sheet of graphene, and some of the potential applications for devices made of the material, which can work with wavelengths from UV to THz. He will also expand the discussion into other materials that have peculiar yet useful properties when made into monolayers, including dichalcogenides.
Nobody yet knows where the next Nobel-worthy effort will originate, but with all of the excitement being generated by optical and photonic research it doesn’t take a genius to keep looking toward the light.