Stefan W. Hell
Born: 23 December 1962, Arad, Romania
Affiliation at the time of the award: Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany
Prize motivation: "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy"
Field: physical chemistry
Prize share: 1/3
Stefan Hell was born in Arad, Romania. His father was an engineer and his mother was a teacher. When Hell was 16, the family emigrated to Germany and after studies in physics at the University of Heidelberg, he received his doctorate in 1990. After a few years at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, the University of Turku in Finland and Oxford University in the UK, he moved to the Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie, in Göttingen, Germany, where he has worked since 1997, and at present he also works at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg.
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. In 1994, Stefan W. Hell developed a method in which one light pulse causes fluorescent molecules to glow, while another causes all molecules except those in a very narrow area to become dark. An image is created by sweeping light along the sample. This makes it possible to track processes occurring inside living cells.