Nobel laureate Moerner to give 2015 Weissman Lecture

Will describe new form of microscopy that makes it possible to track processes occurring inside living cells

The nucleus of a bone cancer cell seen with normal fluorescence microscopy (left) and with super-resolved fluorescence microscopy (right), the technique Moerner helped invent. More than 100,000 proteins (different colors) can be identified in the super-resolved image. (Credit: Andy Nestl, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Nobel laureate and Washington University in St. Louis alumnus William E. Moerner, PhD, the Harry S. Mocher Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, will deliver the 2015 Weissman Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 5, in Louderman Hall on the Danforth Campus.

The lecture, titled “Fun with Light and Single Molecules Opens Up an Amazing New View Inside Cells,” will begin at 4 p.m. in Room 458 in Louderman Hall. Sponsored by the Department of Chemistry in Arts & Sciences, the lecture is free and open to the public.

“Imagine a single molecule about one nanometer in size,” Moerner said. “Before the development of ‘super-resolved’ microscopy, images of single molecules were fundamentally blurry – there was no way to get them in focus.

“We’ve discovered, however, that by turning molecules into tiny light sources we could bring them into focus. The fundamental blurriness is no longer present because the molecules give off their light at different times rather than all at once.”


Moerner will explain how this seeming paradox works and show videos of the nanoscale world of living cells it has made possible.

Moerner earned three bachelor’s degrees, all with honors, from Washington University in 1975. His bachelor’s degrees are in physics and in mathematics, both from Arts & Sciences, and in electrical engineering from the School of Engineering & Applied Science. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in physics from Cornell University.

The lecture honors Samuel I. Weissman, a Washington University faculty member from 1946 until his death in 2007. Weissman was recruited to Los Alamos in 1943, where he worked on the atomic bomb, an accomplishment about which he was later deeply ambivalent.

In 1946, Weissman joined the Washington University faculty with five of his Los Alamos colleagues, who together formed the core of the modern chemistry department. Here, he soon turned to the brand new field of magnetic resonance, in which he was to become a renowned pioneer and world-class expert. A scientist to the core, Weissman did creative research until virtually his last days at the age of 95. Weissman was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

For more information, contact Karen Klein at or by phone at 314-935-6593.