The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a trio of researchers for improving the resolution of optical microscopes.
The technique has extended the resolution of light microscopes
Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner used fluorescence to extend the limits of the light microscope.
The winners will share prize money of eight million kronor (£0.7m).
They were named at a press conference in Sweden, and join a prestigious list of 105 other Chemistry laureates recognised since 1901.
The Nobel Committee said the researchers had won the award for "the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy".
Profs Betzig and Moerner are US citizens, while Prof Hell is German.
Committee chair Prof Sven Lidin, a materials chemist from Lunds University, said "the work of the laureates has made it possible to study molecular processes in real time".
Optical microscopes had previously been held back by a presumed limitation: that they would never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light.
This assumption was based on a rule known as Abbe's diffraction limit, named after an equation published in 1873 by the German microscopist Ernst Abbe.
This year's chemistry laureates used fluorescent molecules to circumvent this limitation, allowing scientists to see things at much higher levels of resolution.
From left: Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner
Their advance enabled scientists to visualise the activity of individual molecules inside living cells.
Addressing the news conference in Stockholm, Prof Hell, from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany, explained: "I got bored with the topic; I felt this was 19th century physics. I was wondering if there was still something profound that could be made with light microscopy. So I saw that the diffraction barrier was the only important problem that had been left over.
"Eventually I realised there must be a way by playing with the molecules, trying to turn the molecules on and off allows you to see adjacent things you couldn't see before."
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