Keep alive passion for science despite failures: Nobel laureate Moerner

Published - January 05, 2017 11:56 pm IST - Bengaluru:

Strange ‘surprises’ seen in industrial laboratories can lead to Nobel prize-winning discoveries if the pursuit of fundamental science remains in focus, said researcher W.E. Moerner, who gave an overview of the discoveries that lead to him sharing the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014.

The Stanford University professor delivered the Morris Travers Lecture at Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) on Thursday. Though explaining the journey from conventional imaging to ‘super-resolution imaging’, wherein the processes of even single molecules can be accurately imaged, the Nobel laureate emphasised the need to keep alive a passion for science despite failures and unexpected scientific results.

The super-resolution imaging was perfected through an ardent, persistent exploration of scientific questions: can we break through the blurry worlds given by prior optical imaging techniques and peek into the nano-scale worlds inhabited by single molecules. “Before this advance, optical images were fuzzy in scales less than 200 nanometres. Now, we can see in resolutions of even 20 nm, and this will reduce further in the coming years,” said Prof. Moerner.

The technique has wide implications for physics, chemistry and biology — and has, among other examples, led to better understanding of the processes that lead to the mentally debilitating Huntington’s disease and cancer. “There are lessons in this for young researchers, in particular, to push beyond conventional wisdom and question assumptions,” he said.

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