New Nobel Prize Tech Enables Close-Up View of Molecular Structures

chemistry behind the tasty flavours of sushi
The Chemistry Behind the Tasty Flavours of Sushi
October 4, 2017
A Tribute to the Late Isabella Karle's Chemistry Success Story
A Tribute to the Late Isabella Karle’s Chemistry Success Story
November 14, 2017

As you move through your Chemistry studies you’ll surely have come across sections about molecular structure. Well you better have, if not it is time to study up or sign up for A level chemistry tuition or O level chemistry tuition in Singapore!

Talking about molecular structures, the fact that human beings can even study the world at such a basic level is amazing! Recently, three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method that allows scientists to see the structure of molecules in much more detail. Find out more about their discovery and what it means for the rest of the world.

A Team of Three

Three different researchers from three separate countries received the Nobel Prize, and they will be sharing the $1.1 million U.S. that comes along with the honour. Jacques Dubochet, from the University of Lausanne, is one recipient. Based at New York’s Columbia University, Joachim Frank is the second recipient, and Richard Henderson of Britain’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology is the third.

The Development of a New Process

The trio of scientists came up with a system known as “cryo-electron microscopy,” which permits them to freeze bio-molecules in place. That way, the researchers can see them as they are, without having to deal with the constant movement within the molecules. In the past, electron microscopes couldn’t be used for biological molecules, since the electron beam would eradicate any living material in its path. However, by cryo-freezing the biological material, the scientists could protect the material from harm and preserve it for study using the electron microscope.

The “Google Earth for Molecules”

Another leader in the world of chemistry and president of the American Chemical Society, Allison Campbell, explains the process in more detail. “This discovery allows the scientist to zoom in down to the fine detail, that fine resolution that you want to have.” She went on to say that cro-electron microscopy is like “Google Earth for molecules.” Just as Google Earth permits users to view the big picture or get up close with specific ground-level locations, so the new molecular technology permits a broad view or a precise, up-close encounter with molecules, including specific atoms within them.

Future Usefulness of Cryo-Electron Microscopy

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, cryo-electron microscopy is “decisive for both the basic understanding of life’s chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals.” During Brazil’s recent crisis, in which many children were born with microcephaly, researchers used cryo-electron microscopy to study the Zika virus, which was suspected of causing the cases of brain damage and deformity. Beyond that event, the new molecular study method has ramifications for virus study and drug development that could benefit millions of people.

A Future Perspective

When you’re bogged down in studies for your next A or O level chemistry exams, sometimes, it can be tough to have the right perspective on your future. The work you’re doing right now, with the help of your Singapore chemistry tutor, is important! You’re learning the skills and facts that you will need in your future career; and who knows? One day, you may make an equally important discovery in the field of chemistry, one that will open doors to new research and potentially save lives.

Source:, 4 October 2017