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Microscopy Advancement by Eric Betzig, Colleagues Wins 2015 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize

Shown left to right are Newcomb Cleveland Prize winners Eric Betzig, Kai Wang, Wesley Legant, and Bi-Chang Chen. | Matt Staley

An advancement in microscopy that provides an unprecedented understanding of the inner workings of live cells has won the 2014-2015 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The Association's oldest prize, now supported by The Fodor Family Trust, annually recognizes the author(s) of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science between June and the following May.

Due to their exceptional work, Eric Betzig, Bi-Chang Chen, Wesley Legant, Kai Wang, and their colleagues will receive the 2014-2015 Newcomb Cleveland Prize, which includes $25,000 and a plaque. The research was originally published by Science on 18 October 2014.

Their work, which dramatically improves upon conventional light-sheet microscopy, allows for 3-D imaging of single molecules, live cells, and developing embryos.

Light-sheet microscopy is appealing because, by rapidly illuminating one plane after another within a specimen, background haze and light-induced damage are minimized. However, conventional light sheets are too thick over cellular dimensions to capture subcellular workings in detail, at high resolution.

Several years ago, Eric Betzig and colleagues at the Janelia Research Campus began exploring the use of ultra-thin, non-diffracting Bessel beams to overcome this problem. He says, "To make the method faster, we started using several Bessel beams in parallel. We were shocked to discover how much multiple Bessel beams reduced photo toxicity compared to one."

Inspired by this and by physicists who use optical lattices to trap atoms, Betzig theorized that two-dimensional lattices, essentially multiple parallel "grids" of Bessel beams, could offer better results. "As expected, the lattice light sheet reduced the toxicity even further and, because it illuminates the whole plane simultaneously, is even faster," explains Betzig.

In their study, the researchers illustrated the power of their approach using 20 distinct biological systems, including embryonic development in nematodes and fruit flies. Because their approach causes less damage than traditional imaging and improves image acquisition speed, it expands the range of biological events that microscopes can investigate, holding broad implications for the field of biology.

Since its development, lattice light-sheet microscopy has been used to image numerous important events, such as single transcription factor molecules binding to DNA, hotspots of transcription, microtubule instability, protein distributions in embryos, and much more. The microscope is available free of charge to outside users through the Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia.

"There are several criteria that the selection committee looks for in an outstanding Newcomb-Cleveland awardee, and this year's winner had it all: a major advance in the field, a well-communicated contribution, and of broad potential application beyond a narrow sub-discipline," explains Science's Editor-in-Chief, Marcia McNutt. "The light-sheet microscopy paper by Chen et al. earned wide support from a very interdisciplinary selection committee faced with a number of exciting candidates from which to choose."

The prize was established in 1923 with funds donated by Newcomb Cleveland of New York City and was originally called the AAAS Thousand Dollar Prize. It is now known as the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize. Along with a plaque and $25,000 in prize money, the winner receives complimentary registration and reimbursed travel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting.

The 2014-2015 Newcomb Cleveland Prize Selection Committee includes Marcia McNutt, Chair, Editor-in-Chief, Science; Robert H. Grubbs, California Institute of Technology; Gary King, Harvard University; Susan Rosenberg, Baylor College of Medicine; Ali Shilatifard, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Michael S. Turner, University of Chicago.

The Newcomb Cleveland Prize will be presented to Eric Betzig at the 182nd AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which will take place 11-15 February 2016. The AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, February 12, in the Palladian Ballroom of the Omni Shoreham Hotel.