Nobel Prize roundup: It’s all about the optics!

This week, the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were announced, and it was a photonics two-fer!  The physics prize went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”

Blue LEDs might sound like a trivial topic for a Nobel Prize, but most reports on the award rightly point out that the physics behind these LEDs is non-trivial and their positive impact on society is inarguable.  A few of the articles that came out on this are below:

The chemistry prize went to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.

In short: were are typically limited in optical imaging by the wavelength of light.  Attempts to resolve objects that are smaller than or closer together than the wavelength are unsuccessful, as the images tend to blur into each other.  However, by making the target objects “glow,” or fluoresce, it is possible to beat this resolution limit and even spot individual molecules.  A few articles on this:

This dual win for optical devices and techniques shows how important the study of light remains even today!


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