Achema opening ceremony Innovation under the (Super-Resolution) Microscope

Editor: Stephanie Röll

“Here at Achema, hundreds of new products are being presented for the first time,” said Dechema Chairman Professor Rainer Diercks as he welcomed the audience at Monday’s opening ceremony.

(Bild: Mühlenkamp)

Innovation can bring prosperity, and that connection was summed up neatly by keynote speaker Professor Stefan Hell of Göttingen University. Last year Professor Hell won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for a technique that gives a tenfold increase in the resolution of an optical microscope — and went on to found a company to exploit the idea. In 1873, German optical pioneer Ernst Abbe discovered that diffraction limits the resolving power of a lens to around half the wavelength of light, or 20 nm. Although electron microscopes can see finer detail, Hell said, optical microscopy still dominates because it does not harm living cells and can be used with fluorescent dyes to highlight individual proteins.

Hell’s technique, known as stimulated emission depletion microscopy (STED), bypasses the diffraction limit by using two pulsed lasers: a green one to stimulate fluorescence, and a red one to quench it. The result is clear and colorful images at resolutions down to 20 nm.


The charismatic Hell told compère Judith Rakers, a well-known German journalist and TV presenter, that the idea came to him while he was sitting on a bed during a visit to Finland. “I realized immediately that this could work — it was a Eureka moment,” he said.

STED microscopes are now available from several companies including Hell’s own startup, Abberior.

Professor Wolf-Dieter Lukas of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BmBF) applauded Hell for bringing a Nobel prize to Germany but warned that getting public acceptance of the importance of science and technology will need more than just a brief media flurry.

He urged the chemical industry to play its part in Germany’s “Industry 4.0” initiative. “By producing new materials, you make it possible for industries like cars and microelectronics to innovate in turn,” he said.