Eric Betzig

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Eric Betzig
Eric Betzig.jpg
Robert Eric Betzig [1]

(1960-01-13) January 13, 1960 (age 61)
Alma mater California Institute of Technology
Cornell University
Known for Photoactivated localization microscopy
Lattice light-sheet microscopy
Scientific career
Fields Applied physics
Institutions Howard Hughes Medical Institute
University of California, Berkeley
Thesis Near-field Scanning Optical Microscopy  (1988)
Doctoral advisor Aaron Lewis, Michael Isaacson
Influences William E. Moerner

Robert Eric Betzig (born January 13, 1960) is an American physicist who works as a Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. [2] [3] [4] He is also a Senior Fellow at the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. [2] [4] [5]


Betzig has worked to develop the field of fluorescence microscopy and photoactivated localization microscopy. He was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy" [6] along with Stefan Hell and fellow Cornell alumnus William E. Moerner. [7]

Dual color localization microscopy SPDMphymod/super-resolution microscopy with GFP & RFP fusion proteins GFP Superresolution Christoph Cremer.JPG
Dual color localization microscopy SPDMphymod/super-resolution microscopy with GFP & RFP fusion proteins

Early life and education

Betzig was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1960, the son of Helen Betzig and engineer Robert Betzig. Aspiring to work in the aerospace industry, Betzig studied physics at the California Institute of Technology and graduated with a BS degree in 1983. He then went on to study at Cornell University where he was advised by Aaron Lewis and Michael Isaacson. There he obtained an MS degree and a PhD degree in applied physics and engineering physics in 1985 and 1988, respectively. For his PhD he focused on developing high-resolution optical microscopes that could see past the theoretical limit of .2 micrometers. [8] [9] [10]


Bell Laboratories

After receiving his doctorate, Betzig was hired by AT&T Bell Laboratories in the Semiconductor Physics Research Department in 1989. That year Betzig's colleague, William E. Moerner, developed the first optical microscope that could see past the .2 micrometer limit, known as the Abbe limit, but it could only function at temperatures near absolute zero. Inspired by Moerner's research, Betzig became the first person to image individual fluorescent molecules at room temperature while determining their positions within less than .2 micrometers in 1993. For this he received the William O. Baker Award for Initiatives in Research (previously known as the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research). [8] Betzig was also awarded the William L. McMillan Award in 1992. [ citation needed ]

Ann Arbor Machine Company

In 1994, Betzig became frustrated with the academic community and the uncertainty of the corporate structure of Bell Laboratories, prompting him to leave both. He spent some years as a stay-at-home dad before reentering the workforce in 1996, when he took up the position of vice president of research and development at Ann Arbor Machine Company, which was owned by the Betzig family. [11] [7] Here he developed Flexible Adaptive Servohydraulic Technology (FAST), but after spending millions of dollars on development he only sold two devices. [8] [9] [11] [12]

Return to academia

In 2002, Betzig returned to the field of microscopy and founded New Millennium Research in Okemos, Michigan. Inspired by Mike Davidson's work with fluorescent proteins, he developed photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), a method of controlling fluorescent proteins that used pulses of light to create images of a higher resolution than were previously thought possible. In the living room of his old Bell Labs collaborator Harald Hess, Betzig and Hess developed the first optical microscope based on this technology. They built their first prototype in under two months, earning them widespread attention. In October of that year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus hired him, but his lab was still under construction at the time. [9]

In early 2006, he formally joined Janelia as a group leader to work on developing super high-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques. He used this technique to study the division of cells in human embryos. [7] [13] In 2010, he was offered the Max Delbruck Prize, but he declined it and Xiaowei Zhuang received the award. In 2014, Betzig was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Stefan Hell and William E. Moerner. [6] [9] [14]

On 31 May 2016 he was appointed an Academician of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Francis.

Eric Betzig at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 14 November 2018 Eric Betzig 2018.jpg
Eric Betzig at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 14 November 2018

In the summer of 2017, Betzig joined the faculty of UC Berkeley with a joint appointment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. [15]

Related Research Articles


Microscopy is the technical field of using microscopes to view objects and areas of objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye. There are three well-known branches of microscopy: optical, electron, and scanning probe microscopy, along with the emerging field of X-ray microscopy.

Microscope Scientific instrument

A microscope is a laboratory instrument used to examine objects that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Microscopy is the science of investigating small objects and structures using a microscopic. Microscopic means being invisible to the eye unless aided by a microscope.

Optical microscope Microscope that uses visible light

The optical microscope, also referred to as a light microscope, is a type of microscope that commonly uses visible light and a system of lenses to generate magnified images of small objects. Optical microscopes are the oldest design of microscope and were possibly invented in their present compound form in the 17th century. Basic optical microscopes can be very simple, although many complex designs aim to improve resolution and sample contrast.

Fluorescence microscope

A fluorescence microscope is an optical microscope that uses fluorescence instead of, or in addition to, scattering, reflection, and attenuation or absorption, to study the properties of organic or inorganic substances. "Fluorescence microscope" refers to any microscope that uses fluorescence to generate an image, whether it is a more simple set up like an epifluorescence microscope or a more complicated design such as a confocal microscope, which uses optical sectioning to get better resolution of the fluorescence image.

William E. Moerner

William Esco Moerner is an American physical chemist and chemical physicist with current work in the biophysics and imaging of single molecules. He is credited with achieving the first optical detection and spectroscopy of a single molecule in condensed phases, along with his postdoc, Lothar Kador. Optical study of single molecules has subsequently become a widely used single-molecule experiment in chemistry, physics and biology. In 2014, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Richard Henderson (biologist)

Richard Henderson is a Scottish molecular biologist and biophysicist and pioneer in the field of electron microscopy of biological molecules. Henderson shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 with Jacques Dubochet and Joachim Frank.

Stefan Hell

Stefan Walter Hell HonFRMS is a Romanian-German physicist and one of the directors of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy", together with Eric Betzig and William Moerner.

Nanoscopic scale Refers to structures with a length scale applicable to nanotechnology, usually cited as 1–100 nanometers

The nanoscopic scale usually refers to structures with a length scale applicable to nanotechnology, usually cited as 1–100 nanometers. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. The nanoscopic scale is a lower bound to the mesoscopic scale for most solids.

Vertico spatially modulated illumination

Vertico spatially modulated illumination (Vertico-SMI) is the fastest light microscope for the 3D analysis of complete cells in the nanometer range. It is based on two technologies developed in 1996, SMI and SPDM. The effective optical resolution of this optical nanoscope has reached the vicinity of 5 nm in 2D and 40 nm in 3D, greatly surpassing the λ/2 resolution limit applying to standard microscopy using transmission or reflection of natural light according to the Abbe resolution limit That limit had been determined by Ernst Abbe in 1873 and governs the achievable resolution limit of microscopes using conventional techniques.

Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz American biologist

Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz is a Senior Group Leader at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus and a founding member of the Neuronal Cell Biology Program at Janelia. Previously, she was the Chief of the Section on Organelle Biology in the Cell Biology and Metabolism Program, in the Division of Intramural Research in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 2016. Lippincott-Schwartz received her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, and performed post-doctoral training with Dr. Richard Klausner at the NICHD, NIH in Bethesda, Maryland.

Super-resolution microscopy is a series of techniques in optical microscopy that allow such images to have resolutions higher than those imposed by the diffraction limit, which is due to the diffraction of light. Super-resolution imaging techniques rely on the near-field or on the far-field. Among techniques that rely on the latter are those that improve the resolution only modestly beyond the diffraction-limit, such as confocal microscopy with closed pinhole or aided by computational methods such as deconvolution or detector-based pixel reassignment, the 4Pi microscope, and structured-illumination microscopy technologies such as SIM and SMI.

Xiaowei Zhuang is a Chinese-American biophysicist who is the David B. Arnold Jr. Professor of Science, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Professor of Physics at Harvard University, and an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is best known for her work in the development of Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (STORM), a super-resolution fluorescence microscopy method, and the discoveries of novel cellular structures using STORM. She received a 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for developing super-resolution imaging techniques that get past the diffraction limits of traditional light microscopes, allowing scientists to visualize small structures within living cells. She was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019 and was awarded a Vilcek Foundation Prize in Biomedical Science in 2020.

Taekjip Ha is a South Korean-born American biophysicist who is currently a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He was previously the Gutgsell Professor of Physics, at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he was the principal investigator of Single Molecule Nanometry group. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Photo-activated localization microscopy and stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) are widefield fluorescence microscopy imaging methods that allow obtaining images with a resolution beyond the diffraction limit. The methods were proposed in 2006 in the wake of a general emergence of optical super-resolution microscopy methods, and were featured as Methods of the Year for 2008 by the Nature Methods journal. The development of PALM as a targeted biophysical imaging method was largely prompted by the discovery of new species and the engineering of mutants of fluorescent proteins displaying a controllable photochromism, such as photo-activatible GFP. However, the concomitant development of STORM, sharing the same fundamental principle, originally made use of paired cyanine dyes. One molecule of the pair, when excited near its absorption maximum, serves to reactivate the other molecule to the fluorescent state.

Lattice light-sheet microscopy is a modified version of light sheet fluorescence microscopy that increases image acquisition speed while decreasing damage to cells caused by phototoxicity. This is achieved by using a structured light sheet to excite fluorescence in successive planes of a specimen, generating a time series of 3D images which can provide information about dynamic biological processes.

Michael Wesley Davidson was an American research scientist and microscopist. He used microscopes to create images of crystallized substances like DNA and hormones, and he contributed to Nobel Prize-honored research about the inner workings of cells. He is credited by 2014 Nobel Laureate Eric Betzig with teaching Betzig and fellow researcher Harald Hess about fluorescent proteins and providing the samples that led to the development of photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), a super-resolution microscopy technique.

Joachim Frank

Joachim Frank is a German-American biophysicist at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate. He is regarded as the founder of single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 with Jacques Dubochet and Richard Henderson. He also made significant contributions to structure and function of the ribosome from bacteria and eukaryotes.

Ibrahim I. Cissé is an Nigerien-American biophysicist and Assistant Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He works on live cell super-resolution imaging and single molecule characterisation.

Na Ji is an American biophysicist and an associate professor at UC Berkeley, where her work focuses on optical microscopy techniques for in vivo imaging and biophotonics based on adaptive optics. She has a joint appointment as faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Suliana Manley American biophysicist

Suliana Manley is an American biophysicist. Her research focuses on the development of high-resolution optical instruments, and their application in studying the organization and dynamics of proteins. She is an associate professor at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and heads the Laboratory of Experimental Biophysics.


  1. "Eighty-Ninth Annual Commencement – California Institute of Technology" (PDF). California Institute of Technology. June 10, 1983. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
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  6. 1 2 "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014". Nobel Media AB. 2014-10-08. Retrieved 2014-10-08.
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  11. 1 2 Timmer, John (April 10, 2015). "Quitting + failures + a microscope in the living room = Nobel Prize". ars technicia. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  12. Gewin, Virginia (2006). "Eric Betzig, group leader, Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Leesburg, Virginia". Nature. 440 (7083): 578. doi:10.1038/nj7083-578a. S2CID   143733760.
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  14. "EricBetzig: Chemist and Nobel Prize". Starmus. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  15. Israel, Brett (27 September 2016). "Nobel Prize winner to join UC Berkeley faculty". Berkeley News. Retrieved 28 September 2016.