Born: 13 January 1960, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA
Prize motivation: "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy"
Field: physical chemistry
Prize share: 1/3
Eric Betzig was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. After first studying physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he completed his doctoral studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He then worked at AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ. After having grown tired of the academic system, he began working for his father's company, Ann Arbor Machine Company. After commercial setbacks, he returned to science through research at his own company. Since 2005 he has been working at the Janelia Farm Research Campus, a part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia.
In normal microscopes the wavelength of light sets a limit to the level of detail possible. However this limitation can be circumvented by methods that make use of fluorescence, a phenomenon in which certain substances become luminous after having been exposed to light. Around 2000, Eric Betzig and William E. Moerner helped create a method in which fluorescence in individual molecules is steered by light. An image of very high resolution is achieved by combining images in which different molecules are activated. This makes it possible to track processes occurring inside living cells.