Eric Betzig

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Eric Betzig
Betzig in 2015
Robert Eric Betzig[1]

(1960-01-13) January 13, 1960 (age 64)
Alma mater
Known forPhotoactivated localization microscopy
Lattice light-sheet microscopy
  • Na Ji (2nd wife)
  • Ruby Ghosh (1st wife)
ChildrenKriya, Ravi, Max, Mia
Scientific career
FieldsApplied physics
InstitutionsHoward Hughes Medical Institute
University of California, Berkeley
ThesisNear-field Scanning Optical Microscopy (1988)
Doctoral advisorMichael Isaacson

Robert Eric Betzig (born January 13, 1960) is an American physicist who works as a professor of physics and professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.[2][3][4] He is also a senior fellow at the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia.[2][4][5]

Betzig has worked to develop the field of fluorescence microscopy and photoactivated localization microscopy. He was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy"[6] along with Stefan Hell and fellow Cornell alumnus William E. Moerner.[7]

Dual color localization microscopy SPDMphymod/super-resolution microscopy with GFP & RFP fusion proteins

Early life and education[edit]

Betzig was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1960, the son of Helen Betzig and engineer Robert Betzig. Aspiring to work in the aerospace industry, Betzig studied physics at the California Institute of Technology and graduated with a BS degree in 1983. He then went on to study at Cornell University where Michael Isaacson was his supervisor, and he also worked with Aaron Lewis. There he obtained an MS degree and a PhD degree in applied physics and engineering physics in 1985 and 1988, respectively. For his PhD he focused on developing high-resolution optical microscopes that could see past the theoretical limit of 0.2 micrometers.[8][9][10]


Bell Laboratories[edit]

After receiving his doctorate, Betzig was hired by AT&T Bell Laboratories in the Semiconductor Physics Research Department in 1989. That year Betzig's colleague, William E. Moerner, developed the first optical microscope that could see past the .2 micrometer limit, known as the Abbe limit, but it could only function at temperatures near absolute zero. Inspired by Moerner's research, Betzig became the first person to image individual fluorescent molecules at room temperature while determining their positions within less than .2 micrometers in 1993. For this he received the William O. Baker Award for Initiatives in Research (previously known as the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research).[8] Betzig was also awarded the William L. McMillan Award in 1992.[11]

Ann Arbor Machine Company[edit]

In 1994, Betzig became frustrated with the academic community and the uncertainty of the corporate structure of Bell Laboratories, prompting him to leave both. He spent some years as a stay-at-home dad before reentering the workforce in 1996, when he took up the position of vice president of research and development at Ann Arbor Machine Company, which was partially owned by the Betzig family.[12][7] Here he developed Flexible Adaptive Servohydraulic Technology (FAST), but after spending millions of dollars on development he only sold two devices.[8][9][12][13]

Return to academia[edit]

In 2002, Betzig returned to the field of microscopy and founded New Millennium Research in Okemos, Michigan. Inspired by Mike Davidson's work with fluorescent proteins, he developed photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), a method of controlling fluorescent proteins that used pulses of light to create images of a higher resolution than were previously thought possible. In the living room of his old Bell Labs collaborator Harald Hess, Betzig and Hess developed the first optical microscope based on this technology. They built their first prototype in under two months, earning them widespread attention. In October of that year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus hired him, but his lab was still under construction at the time.[9]

In early 2006, he formally joined Janelia as a group leader to work on developing super high-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques. He used this technique to study the division of cells in human embryos.[7][14] In 2010, he was offered the Max Delbruck Prize, but he declined it and Xiaowei Zhuang received the award. In 2014, Betzig was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Stefan Hell and William E. Moerner.[6][9][15]

Eric Betzig at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 14, 2018

On May 31, 2016 he was appointed an Academician of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Francis.

In the summer of 2017, Betzig joined the Berkeley faculty with a joint appointment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.[16]

Selected research papers[edit]

  • 1993: Single molecules observed by near-field scanning optical microscopy, E Betzig, RJ Chichester – Science[17]
  • 1992: Near-field optics: microscopy, spectroscopy, and surface modification beyond the diffraction limit, E Betzig, JK Trautman – Science[18]
  • 2006: Imaging intracellular fluorescent proteins at nanometer resolution, E Betzig, GH Patterson, R Sougrat.[19]
  • 2014: Lattice light-sheet microscopy: imaging molecules to embryos at high spatiotemporal resolution, G Seydoux, US Tulu, DP Kiehart, E Betzig[20]

Personal life[edit]

Betzig has married twice. His first wife was condensed matter physicist Ruby Ghosh [d],[10] with whom he has a daughter Kriya (born 1993),[21] and a son, Ravi.[22] His second wife is biophysicist Na Ji,[16] with whom he has two children, Max and Mia.[22]


  1. ^ "Eighty-Ninth Annual Commencement – California Institute of Technology" (PDF). California Institute of Technology. June 10, 1983. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Eric Betzig | UC Berkeley Physics". Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  3. ^ "Eric Betzig | Research UC Berkeley". Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Eric Betzig". Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  5. ^ "Eric Betzig, PhD". Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  6. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014". Nobel Media AB. October 8, 2014. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c "Eric Betzig Wins 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". HHMI News. October 8, 2014. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "Eric Betzig". Janelia Farm Research Campus. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d Feltman, Rachel (October 8, 2014). "Nobel chemistry laureate's twisting path to molecular microscope breakthrough". Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Betzig, Robert Eric (1988). Nondestructive optical imaging of surfaces with 500 angstrom resolution (Ph.D.). Cornell University. OCLC 79223216 – via ProQuest.
  11. ^ "McMillan Award". Department of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  12. ^ a b Timmer, John (April 10, 2015). "Quitting + failures + a microscope in the living room = Nobel Prize". ars technicia. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  13. ^ Gewin, Virginia (2006). "Eric Betzig, group leader, Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Leesburg, Virginia". Nature. 440 (7083): 578. doi:10.1038/nj7083-578a. S2CID 143733760.
  14. ^ Feltman, Rachel (October 8, 2014). "The Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to three men who revolutionized microscopy". Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  15. ^ "EricBetzig: Chemist and Nobel Prize". Starmus. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  16. ^ a b Israel, Brett (September 27, 2016). "Nobel Prize winner to join UC Berkeley faculty". Berkeley News. Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  17. ^ Betzig, Eric; Chichester, Robert J. (November 26, 1993). "Single Molecules Observed by Near-Field Scanning Optical Microscopy". Science. 262 (5138): 1422–1425. doi:10.1126/science.262.5138.1422. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17736823.
  18. ^ Betzig, Eric; Trautman, Jay K. (July 10, 1992). "Near-Field Optics: Microscopy, Spectroscopy, and Surface Modification Beyond the Diffraction Limit". Science. 257 (5067): 189–195. doi:10.1126/science.257.5067.189. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17794749. S2CID 38041885.
  19. ^ Betzig, Eric; Patterson, George H.; Sougrat, Rachid; Lindwasser, O. Wolf; Olenych, Scott; Bonifacino, Juan S.; Davidson, Michael W.; Lippincott-Schwartz, Jennifer; Hess, Harald F. (September 15, 2006). "Imaging Intracellular Fluorescent Proteins at Nanometer Resolution". Science. 313 (5793): 1642–1645. doi:10.1126/science.1127344. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 16902090.
  20. ^ Chen, Bi-Chang; Legant, Wesley R.; Wang, Kai; Shao, Lin; Milkie, Daniel E.; Davidson, Michael W.; Janetopoulos, Chris; Wu, Xufeng S.; Hammer, John A.; Liu, Zhe; English, Brian P. (October 24, 2014). "Lattice light-sheet microscopy: Imaging molecules to embryos at high spatiotemporal resolution". Science. 346 (6208). doi:10.1126/science.1257998. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 4336192. PMID 25342811.
  21. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014: Eric Betzig - Biographical". Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  22. ^ a b Betzig, Eric (2015-07-06). "Single Molecules, Cells, and Super‐Resolution Optics (Nobel Lecture)". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 54 (28): 8034–8053. doi:10.1002/anie.201501003. ISSN 1433-7851. I'm also lucky in that I have a second chance to be a better husband and father. While IÏm close with Kriya and Ravi, one of my regrets is that I didnÏt spend more time with them when they were growing up. Na and I have two happy and beautiful little hellions, Max and Mia, and I have the opportunity to be with them more. I donÏt know, though, if IÏll ever figure out how to optimally balance my responsibility and desire to be at both work and home.

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