News Release

Freeze frame microscopy for 3-D biological images captures 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Cryo-electron microscopy makes it possible to image objects too small to be seen by light microscopes

Peer-Reviewed Publication

The Optical Society

WASHINGTON -- Just three years ago, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to optical scientists for breaking Abbe's diffraction limit to enable super-resolution microscopy. Today, biomedical microscopy is again in the limelight, with the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry being awarded to Jacques Dubochet, University of Lausanne, Switzerland; Joachim Frank, Columbia University, USA; and Richard Henderson, Cambridge University, UK; "for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution." Using cryo-electron microscopy, researchers can now freeze biomolecules mid-movement and define the structures of their proteins at atomic resolution. This technology has taken biochemistry into a new era.

"The Nobel Committee's recognition of yet another type of biomedical imaging underscores just how important, and enabling imaging and microscopy techniques are to all areas of science and medicine," stated Elizabeth M.C. Hillman, professor of Biomedical Engineering at Radiology, Columbia University, and general chair of the upcoming 2018 OSA BioPhotonics Congress. "The contribution by Drs. Dubochet, Frank and Henderson enables biochemists to image every corner of the cell in atomic detail; a close-up view beyond the reach of optical methods, but an amazing complement to the continuum of optical microscopy and in-vivo optical imaging and tomography methods that are increasingly enriching medical science." The team's work also stands as a testament to the importance of interdisciplinary technique development that spans physics, engineering, biology and chemistry, notes Hillman.

University of California Davis professor and chair of the OSA Microscopy, Histopathology and Analytics topical meeting at the upcoming OSA congress, Richard Levenson, stated, "Cryo-electron microscopy's major breakthrough was to enable imaging of intact cells, frozen in time, without the need for the damaging sample preparation steps required by conventional electron microscopy. Beyond just imaging, the method permits the structure of single proteins to be determined in the context of their native cellular environment." A pathologist by training, Dr. Levenson himself has pioneered methods to simplify and improve microscopic imaging of tissues to tease out tiny details that can betray the presence of disease. "We finally are entering an era where 'seeing is believing,'" says Levenson, "tests that used to rely on biochemical analysis can now visualize molecular events directly. I think the next decade will see a revolution in the way we understand the workings of cells, organs and organisms and the way we use that information in medicine."


The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony will be held on 10 December in Stockholm, Sweden. His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the honor to Dubochet, Frank and Henderson and the other 2017 Laureates during this annual ceremony.

Research papers published in OSA Publishing's Journal of the Optical Society of America A (JOSA A) by Nobel Laureate, Joachim Frank:

Estimation of variance distribution in three-dimensional reconstruction. I. Theory, Liu, Weiping; Frank, Joachim, 1995, Journal of the Optical Society of America A 12(12) 2615-2627.

Estimation of variance distribution in three-dimensional reconstruction. II. Applications, Liu, Weiping; Boisset, Nicolas; Frank, Joachim, 1995, Journal of the Optical Society of America A 12(12) 2628-2635.

Interested in learning more about biomedical microscopy and imaging? The OSA BioPhotonics Congress will be held in Hollywood, Florida, USA from 2-6 April 2018. Topical meetings will be hosted on: Cancer Imaging and Therapy, Clinical and Translational Biophotonics, Optical Tomography and Spectroscopy and Optics and the Brain.

About The Optical Society

Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and entrepreneurs who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts. For more information, visit

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.