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Eric Betzig Group Takes $25K Prize for Light-Sheet Microscopy Advance

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has awarded its $25,000 Newcomb Cleveland Prize to Nobel laureate Eric Betzig and colleagues for advancing light-sheet microscopy for live-cell imaging.

Their approach causes less damage than traditional imaging and improves image acquisition speed, according to AAAS. It also expands the range of biological events that microscopes can investigate.

The researchers, from the Howard Hughes Medical Center's Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va., illustrated the power of their approach using 20 distinct biological systems, including embryonic development in nematodes and fruit flies.

From left to right are Newcomb Cleveland Prize winners Eric Betzig, Kai Wang, Wesley Legant and Bi-Chang Chen. Courtesy of Matt Staley.

The team has been exploring the use of ultrathin, nondiffracting Bessel beams to overcome a limitation of light-sheet microscopy: Conventional light sheets are too thick over cellular dimensions to capture subcellular workings at high resolution.

While attempting to make their method faster, the researchers started using several Bessel beams in parallel. They were surprised to discover that multiple Bessel beams reduced phototoxicity compared to one beam, Betzig said.

Inspired by this and by physicists who use optical lattices to trap atoms, Betzig theorized that 2D lattices, essentially multiple parallel "grids" of Bessel beams, could offer better results. They found the lattice light sheet reduced the toxicity even further and, because it illuminates the whole plane simultaneously, was even faster.

Since its development, lattice light-sheet microscopy has been used to image numerous cellular processes and aspects, such as single transcription factor molecules binding to DNA, hotspots of transcription, microtubule instability and protein distributions in embryos.

The microscope is available free of charge to outside users through the Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia. The prize was awarded for research published in Science (doi: 10.1126/science.1257998).

The Newcomb Cleveland Prize was established in 1923. It recognizes scientific research that advances a field, is well-communicated and has broad potential applications.

Betzig and two other researchers won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for early contributions to the development of superresolution microscopy.

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