, STOCKHOLM, October 8- Stefan Hell, co-winner of this year’s Nobel Chemistry Prize, was quietly checking a scientific paper when the phone rang Wednesday with what he thought initially was a prank call.
“It was a total surprise, I couldn’t believe it. The first moment I thought it was perhaps a hoax,” he told the Nobel Foundation.
“But I remembered the voice of (Nobel Committee member) Professor Normark and then I realised there were also other people around… and so it’s serious.”
But rather than jump for joy at the news from Stockholm, the 51 year old scientist — awarded for his work that led to the development of ultra powerful microscopes that have revolutionised disease and drug research — carried on reading.
“I read the paragraph I wanted to read to the end — and then I called up my wife and tried to reach some of the people who are close to me,” he said, adding that he had locked himself away from the barrage of phone calls and interview requests.
Romanian born Hell, a German citizen, heads the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goetingen, Germany and won the Nobel jointly with US researchers Eric Betzig and William Moerner.
Working separately, the trio defied the conventional wisdom that it was impossible to improve the resolution of microscopes beyond around 200 nanometres (200 billionths of a metre) due a so-called diffraction barrier identified by microscopist Ernst Abbe in 1873.
Hell said his research met significant resistance in the scientific community at first.
“People believed this barrier has been around since 1873 and the resolution is what it is and doing something about it is… kind of crazy, not very realistic,” he said in an interview with the Nobel Committee.
“But it was my view that so much physics had happened in the 20th century I felt there must be something, some kind of phenomenon that leads you beyond the barrier,” he added.
“I’ve always enjoyed doing challenging things and challenging common wisdom.”