Quate is known as the brilliant mind behind acoustic and atomic force microscopy. The scanning acoustic microscope, invented with a colleague in 1973, has resolution exceeding optical microscopes, revealing structure in opaque or even transparent materials not visible to optics.
In 1985, Quate read about a new type of microscope able to examine electrically conductive materials. He dreamed up a related instrument that would work on non-conductive materials, including biological tissue, and the Atomic Force Microscope was born. AFM traces surface contours using a needle to maintain constant pressure against the surface to reveal atomic detail. AFM is the foundation of the $100 million nanotechnology industry.