For their developments of techniques to break through the previously held limits of optical microscopy, Thomas W. Ebbesen, a professor of physical chemistry at France’s University of Strasbourg; Stefan W. Hell, a biophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, in Göttingen, Germany; and John Pendry, a physics professor at Imperial College London, will share the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.
The recipients have done more than make fundamental discoveries, said Paul S. Weiss, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the California NanoSystems Institute, at a press conference announcing the winners. “What they’ve done is rewritten how we teach optics.”
Hell was able to greatly shrink the size of a probing spot of light by imposing a doughnut-shaped, subtractive beam on it. The strategy resulted in a light dot so small it matches the scale of biology. “He’s become a champion for instrument development,” Weiss said.
Ebbesen developed ways to allow light to travel efficiently through holes smaller than the wavelengths of the light, by restructuring the materials around the holes.
And Pendry solved the problem of the “perfect lens,” devising ways to negatively refract light, which allowed scientists to resolve objects smaller than the wavelength of the observing light.
Since 2008, the Norwegian Academy of Science & Letters has awarded three $1 million Kavli Prizes every two years to scientists who have revolutionized astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.
The prizes’ namesake, scientist and philanthropist Fred Kavli, who passed away in November 2013 at age 86, said he created the awards to “honor the science of the largest, the smallest, and the most complex.”
The 2014 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics went to Alan H. Guth of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Andrei D. Linde of Stanford University, and Alexi A. Starobinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences for their discovery of the theory of cosmic inflation.
And for their studies of the neural networks underlying memory, Brenda Milner of McGill University, in Montreal; John O’Keefe of University College London; and Marcus E. Raichle of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis received the 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.