Thursday, October 09, 2014

Chemistry Nobel Prize Goes To Physicists

The Nobel Prize in chemistry this year goes to a team that was responsible for the development of fluorescence microscopy.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to three scientists whose work surpassed the long-established resolution limit for optical microscopes. The award went to Eric Betzig of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stefan W. Hell of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and William E. Moerner of Stanford University “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”

There is an important point here that should be addressed to the public, the politicians, and those who think that we can fund one part of science over another. Many of the instruments used in chemistry, biology, medicine, etc. came out of basic physics research. Before anyone else used these instruments, physicists were the first people to thought of the concept, develop the theory and instrumentation, and then used them. It is only after that that the potential applications for such a device can be envisioned in other fields.

This technique is not the first. The history of Nobel prizes is littered with many instruments that came out of physics but are now ubiquitous in other fields. STM/AFM instruments are indispensable in biology and chemistry, yet this is clearly an instrument that came out quantum mechanics and then developed by physicists once they knew that such a device can probe a sample of interest. Only after that is the possibility of applications in other areas can be seen.

So folks, when you choke the support, and the funding, of basic science/physics, please note that you are really choking off the upstream waters. You may not feel the effect right away, but eventually, your water supply will drop down to a trickle, and you don't quite now what happened. The instruments that those people funded by the NIH here in the US were all derivatives of devices invented out of physics!

Think about that next time you want to cut off your nose to spite your face.


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