On Wednesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry to three men, Jacques Dubochet, 75, Joachim Frank, 77, and Richard Henderson, 72, "for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution" — or as the Nobel committee said, creating a "cool microscope technology" that will revolutionize biochemistry by allowing people to see the inner workings of biomolecules at the atomic level.
Henderson, a Scot who works at Cambridge, developed a way to examine living molecules under an electron microscope in 1990, and Frank, a German-born U.S. citizen at Columbia, made the technology widely applicable; Dubochet, a Swiss citizen at the University of Lausanne, added water to electron microscopy. Their technique was optimized in 2013.
Thanks to their work, "we may soon have detailed images of life's complex machineries in atomic resolution," the Nobel committee said. Their cryo-electron microscopy technique "has moved biochemistry into a new era," giving scientists a new method that should prove "decisive for both the basic understanding of life's chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals," like a vaccine against the Zika virus.