Springer author wins Innovation Award for 'Light Microscopy with Unprecedented Resolution'

This year’s 10th German Innovation Award goes to the Göttingen-based scientist Professor Stefan W. Hell. The Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry received the EUR 250,000 prize for his project “Light Microscopy with Unprecedented Resolution”. The awards ceremony took place in Berlin, with the prize presented by the German president Horst Köhler on November 23. Four research projects were nominated, all of which produced “outstanding technical, engineering or scientific innovations”. Stefan Hell is the author of a chapter in the Springer reference work Springer Handbook of Lasers and Optics.

An iron law recast

Professor Stefan Hell is the first scientist to overcome the 130-year-old diffraction resolution barrier in a fluorescence microscope. The innovative aspect of his procedure is that resolution is no longer limited by the light wavelength. Professor Hell has found a way to circumvent “Abbe’s law”, allowing resolutions down to a molecular scale. In practical terms, Hell and his colleagues have hugely enhanced a standard scientific procedure. Protein molecules are between 10 and 200 nanometers (one millionth of a meter) in size. An electron microscope cannot be used for viewing live material, and even under the best light microscope, all structures under 200 nanometers blur “into mush”, as Stefan Hell puts it. In experiments, he achieved resolutions of 15-20 nanometers using STED technology. As a result of his research, a newly developed microscope is now on the market, with the potential to forge ahead in investigating the molecular scale of life and uncovering more information about disease.

Alongside Hell’s improved light microscope, three other projects were nominated for the Innovation Award: a night vision assistant for cars, a brain pacemaker for Parkinson patients and a laser appliance capable of dissecting and isolating parts of cells.


The German Innovation Award – the German President’s prize for technology – has been awarded annually since 1997. The prize honors projects that make use of outstanding research to develop ready-for-market products, and the people behind these developments. The German Innovation Award is made possible by the generous support of German companies and foundations.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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