Betzig is one of three winners, sharing the prize with American chemist William E. Moerner and German physicist Stefan W. Hell. The three, who worked independently of each other, each claimed one-third of the prize.
Betzig, who is the son of Ann Arbor Machine Company founder and owner Robert Betzig, graduated from Pioneer in 1978.
Pioneer High School science teacher Karen Fox believes that the foundation students build in high school is important in shaping their later lives. “I believe that not only the high school science base helps graduates to be successful in college and in their careers,” she said, “but their other high school courses will help them be prepared for college and beyond.”
But after 10 years of no science-related publications, Betzig didn’t know what to focus on or if anyone would take him seriously in the science community. “There was this big gap on my résumé. So I knew I had to come up with some intellectual capital to get people to listen to me again,” he told Howard Hughes.
He took to his cottage in Hell, Mich. to figure out what to do. "I holed up in my cottage, and just started thinking. Eventually those thoughts brought me back to microscopy.”
It was Betzig’s work in developing microscopy technology that allows scientists to see extremely small particles in ways not previously thought possible that led him to a Nobel Prize. According to The Official Website of the Nobel Prize, Betzig, along with Moerner and Hell, is awarded “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.” Due to the men’s development, it is now possible to see things that were once limited by the traditional light microscope. Fluorescence microscopy allows scientists to see DNA transference, the changes neurons go through and much more.
Pioneer High School Senior Lauryn Comer thinks it’s amazing that a Pioneer graduate was able to develop such a microscope and was able to win a Nobel Prize. “It’s awesome and very inspirational to have someone who used to walk in the same hallways that I currently walk in win a Nobel Prize,” she said. “It makes me feel like I, too, can achieve this greatness.”
Fox believes that winning a Nobel Prize is an extraordinary accomplishment and not something that can be done easily. “To have the drive, desire to learn, and then apply acquired knowledge in unique ways along with all the years of dedication to finally share something unique in the scientific arena required to be eligible to win a Nobel Prize is beyond what most of us will force our lives on,” she said. “I believe that an individual that wins the Nobel Prize in any science is a pretty special individual.”
Betzig is currently a group leader at the Janelia Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Va., where he is continuously testing his theories of increasing microscopy and trying to translate them into actual instruments. According to the Washington Post, Betzig is already working on his next project: a microscope that will allow scientists to “produce high-speed images of whole cells in three dimensions, noninvasively.”
The possibilities for microscopy are endless, and Betzig is excited to see what he can come up with. “There’s always something that an engineer can do to make microscopes better,” he told the Washington Post.
While the news of the Nobel Prize win came as a shock to Betzig, according to The Detroit Free Press, he’s ready to see what’s in store next. “A half-hour afterward, you’re just kind of staring into space wondering, ‘What’s going to become of me?’” he told the site. “My life’s going to change.”