STANFORD (KCBS) — For the third consecutive year, a researcher from Stanford is being awarded the top prize in science: the Nobel Prize. This time, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Nobel committee has put the spotlight on super-powered microscopes.

Dr. William E. Moerner is one of three scientists being honored with this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but the professor was not at home Wednesday morning to receive the usual morning wake-up call from Sweden.

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“It was very exciting; I just got the call from my wife as I had just come out of the shower here in Brazil. She had heard from the Associated Press and so it was very exciting,” Moerner said.

Moerner was working at IBM’s Almaden Research Center 25 years ago in San Jose when he and his colleagues discovered a technique for looking at individual molecules with an optical microscope.

For many years, the optical microscopy was held back by the presumed limitation that that it would never get better resolution than half the wavelength of light. The Nobel Laureates, however, were able to circumvent the limitation by using fluorescent molecules.

“That has blossomed into a huge field where molecules—individual molecules—have been detected in many other situations,” Moermer said.

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Because of the discovery, scientists can now visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells tracking proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as well as follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.

The two other laureates are Eric Betzig, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia and Stefan W. Hell from Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany.

Two separate principles were rewarded.

Moemer and Betzig, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy, which relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off.

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Hell developed the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, which uses laser beams to create high-resolution images.