NIGMS Grantee Honored with Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Award Recognizes Technologies for High-Resolution Cellular Imaging
Tiny strands of tubulin, a protein in a cell’s skeleton
Using a technique made possible by super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, scientists captured this image of a cellular skeleton. Each dot represents the calculated 3-D location of a single molecule of the protein tubulin, with color encoding the depth. Credit: Pakorn Kanchanawong, National University of Singapore and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health; and Clare Waterman, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences congratulates grantee William E. Moerner, Ph.D., who will share the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Eric Betzig, Ph.D., and Stefan W. Hell, Dr. rer. nat. "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy."

“Their achievements were truly pioneering,” said Catherine Lewis, Ph.D., director of the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics at NIGMS, which has supported Moerner’s work at Stanford University since 2003. “These scientists accomplished something that was thought to be beyond reach—seeing single molecules in living cells in real time. This has opened a window into the cell and paved the way for an explosion of research on the role of individual molecules in health and disease.”

The field of high-resolution fluorescent light microscopy is relatively young. In previous decades, scientists used fluorescent proteins as tags to examine cellular processes. Although the tags allowed researchers to study the average location and movement of molecules en masse, it was not possible to track single molecules.

“The advances in technology spearheaded by these three Nobel laureates revolutionized our ability to see inside cells and to study the interactions of individual molecules as never before,” Lewis said.

NIGMS has worked closely with the scientific community to develop high-resolution probes and other techniques for detecting and manipulating single molecules.

Prior to receiving NIH support, Moerner discovered a way to turn the glow of fluorescent proteins on and off at will, leading to a new generation of molecular probes with enhanced properties. He and others continue to develop new classes of probes and new techniques to improve the resolution of single molecule imaging in three dimensions. The technologies are yielding unprecedented biological insights and transforming the field of cell biology.

NIGMS has a long history of funding Nobel Prize-winning researchers. Since its creation 52 years ago, the Institute has supported 40 Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine and 41 Nobel laureates in chemistry.

More information about NIGMS support of Nobel laureates is available at

More information about NIGMS and NIH activities in single molecule imaging is at