Kavli Prize goes to photonics researchers Ebbesen, Hell, and Pendry

May 30, 2014
The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience is shared between Thomas W. Ebbesen, Stefan W. Hell, and Sir John B. Pendry. The $1 million prize is awarded every two year for advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience is shared between Thomas W. Ebbesen, Stefan W. Hell, and Sir John B. Pendry. The $1 million prize is awarded every two year for advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. The 2014 award for nanoscience was made for "for transformative contributions to the field of nano-optics that have broken long-held beliefs about the limitations of the resolution limits of optical microscopy and imaging."

The award committee noted that "each of this year’s prize winners, through their different insights and routes, has independently advanced our ability to ‘see’ nanostructures using ‘ordinary’ light. This ability to see and image nanoscale objects is a critical prerequisite to further advances in the broader field of nanoscience."

Thomas W. Ebbesen is a Norwegian physical chemist who has done research in nanoscience around the world. He obtained his bachelor at Oberlin College, before moving to France, where he obtained his PhD at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in the early 1980s. He then moved back to the US to work at the Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory, where he spent several years doing research in photo-physical chemistry.

His contribution to nanoscience began in 1988 when he moved to NEC in Tsukuba, Japan. He started working on the synthesis and on the properties of fullerenes, in particular, superconductivity, before drifting his attention towards carbon nanotubes. In 1992, working in collaboration with Pulickel Ajayan he discovered an easy way to produce carbon nanotubes in large quantities. He went on to study the mechanical and electronic properties of single nanotubes.

He unexpectedly observed light propagtion through holes much smaller than the light wavelength. The phenomenon was explained by the interaction of light with electron waves at the metal surfaces (plasmons), and published in 1998, just before Ebbesen returned to France. Since 1999, Ebbesen has worked at the Institut de Science et Ingénierie Supramoléculaires (ISIS) in Strasbourg, which he directed from 2004 to 2012. His research interest still focuses on the properties of plasmonic nanostructures and the interactions between plasmons and molecules.

Related article: Surface plasmons can circumvent certain limitations imposed by conventional optics by contributing editor Jeff Hecht

Stefan W. Hell is a German physicist, director of the Max Plank Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany. Born in Romania, he did his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Heidelberg, where he received his doctorate in 1990. It was during his postgraduate project with Siegfried Hunklinger that he became interested in ways to improve the resolution of confocal and fluorescence microscopy, and this became the focus of his research activity in the following years.

From 1991 to 1993 he stayed in Heidelberg to work at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. There, he developed the fundamentals of 4Pi-microscopy, which allows improving the axial resolution of a confocal microscope. Towards the end of 1993 he moved to Turku, in Finland, where he led his own research group in the Department of Medical Physics. During this period, he proposed stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, which would later break the 200 nm barrier in resolution established by Ernst Abbe over a century before.

In 1997 he went back to Germany, this time in Göttingen at the Max Plank Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, where he established the Nanophotonics department, and where he became a director in 2002. In Göttingen he further developed STED microscopy and focused on other microscopy techniques derived from it. His interests are still in improving microscopy techniques and in applying them to study biological systems.

Related article: Super-resolution STED microscopy advances with yellow CW OPSL by colleagues of Stephan Hell at the Max Plank Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

John B. Pendry is the Chair in theoretical solid-state physics at Imperial College London, a position that he has held since 1981. A student of the University of Cambridge, he started his research career with a PhD in Physics in 1969, when he became a fellow of Downing College. He left his native England for a research position at Bell Labs in 1972-73. He returned to Cambridge, before joining the Daresbury Laboratory in 1975, and eventually Imperial College London, where he has served as head of the Physics Department and as Principal for the Faculty of Physical Sciences.

His early research interests focused on the electronic properties of surfaces. He developed theories that enabled the practical use of techniques for the study of the properties of surfaces, such as low energy electron diffraction and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy. In 1992, Pendry started the study of the interaction of light and matter that would lead to the design of metamaterials with negative refractive index. In 2000, he then predicted that such metamaterials can focus light with unlimited resolution, proposing the concept of a ‘perfect lens’.

Almost as a joke, in the early 2000’s Pendry proposed the idea of an ‘invisibility cloak’ that would hide objects from electromagnetic radiation. The proposal was taken more seriously than he thought, and led to experimental realisations of such cloaking at microwave or visible wavelengths.

Related article: Metamaterials and Transformation Optics: Will transformation optics be the next optical revolution? by contributing editor Jeff Hecht

About the Author

LFW Staff

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