Nobel Prizes for Research at the Institute
With the Nobel Prize the highest scientific honor has been awarded three times for research carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry – one in every generation of researchers:
was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014 for his pioneering work in the field of ultra-high resolution fluorescence microscopy. With his invention of STED (STimulated Emission Depletion) microscopy and related processes, he revolutionized light microscopy. Conventional light microscopes already reach their resolution limit when two objects are closer than 200 nanometers (one nanometer is a millionths of a millimeter) from each other because the diffraction of light blurs them into a single image feature. This limit, discovered about 130 years ago by Ernst Abbe, had been considered an insurmountable hurdle. Stefan Hell was the first to radically overcome the resolution limit of light microscopes – with a completely new concept. STED microscopy, invented and developed by him to application readiness, is the first focused light-microscopy method which is no longer limited by diffraction. It allows an up to ten times better image resolution in living cells and makes structures visible that are much smaller than 200 nanometers. By applying this method, biologists and physicians can look deeper into the nano-cosmos of living cells than ever before.
Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann
were the recipients of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. They explored the molecular structures that enable nerve cells to transmit electric signals. In 1976, the two Max Planck researchers developed a method for measuring the incredibly weak electric current that flows for extremely short periods of time when single pores open up – the so-called patch-clamp technique. Miniscule ion channels – pore-forming proteins – are embedded within the outer membrane of nearly all cell types. They not only transmit the electrical activity of nerve and muscle cells, but also translate physical and chemical sensory stimuli into neuronal signals. Blood cells, immune cells and liver cells also use ion channels for communication. These nanomachines in the membrane are therefore not only involved in nerve cell signaling; they also play a crucial role in the messaging systems of organisms.
to Erwin Neher's Emeritus Group
was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1967. He succeeded in observing the course of very fast chemical reactions occurring in the range of nanoseconds. He thus broke down a fundamental barrier as, until then, these very fast reaction processes had been considered unmeasurable. His work is of fundamental importance far beyond the scope of chemistry.