Eric Betzig
Physicist, Nobel Laureate

After obtaining a BS in Physics from Caltech, Eric Betzig moved to Cornell, where his thesis involved the development of near-field optics — the first method to break the diffraction barrier in light microscopy. He then became a PI at AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ, where he further refined the technology and explored many applications, including high density data storage, semiconductor spectroscopy, and superresolution fluorescence imaging of cells. In 1993, he was the first to image single fluorescent molecules under ambient conditions, and determine their positions to better than 1/40 of the wavelength of light. Tiring of academia, He then served as VP of R&D in his father’s machine tool company, developing a high speed motion control technology based on an electrohydraulic hybrid drive with adaptive control algorithms. Commercial failure of the technology left him unemployed and looking for new directions.

This search eventually culminated in the invention and demonstration of the superresolution technique PALM by Dr. Betzig and his fellow unemployed colleague and Bell Labs expatriate, Harald Hess. Since 2005, Dr. Betzig has been a Group Leader at Janelia, developing new optical imaging technologies for biology. Betzig was awarded the William L. McMillan Award in 1992 and the 1993 National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research. He was offered the 2010 Max Delbruck Prize, but declined.

Eric Betzig was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy along with Stefan Hell and fellow Cornell alumnus William E. Moerner.