Americans Eric Betzig, 54, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Virginia, and William E. Moerner, 61, at Stanford University, California; and German Stefan Hell, 51, at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen and the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg.
For developing ways to dramatically improve the resolution of optical microscopes. This allowed scientists to overcome the theoretical maximum resolution of 200 nanometers that prevented researchers from seeing living cells or bacteria in ways that electron microscopes -- which usually require cells to be killed -- couldn't.
The Nobel committee says the work of the three scientists "has brought optical microscopy into the nano-dimension," allowing the study of molecular processes in real time. This has helped improve our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's, and even made visible the changes that take place in the brain when it learns something.