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Nobel Laureate Eric Betzig Visited NTHU
On October 19 Eric Betzig gave the 2018 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU. In his talk he encouraged students to study and work hard, engage in constructive self-criticism, and develop good character. Dr. Betzig, who won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, said that during various phases of his career he received a great deal of help from his colleagues and friends, as a result of which he has learned the importance of treating others fairly and respectfully, since you never know when you will need to ask someone for help.
 
When answering questions from high school students, he said that if you want to become a good scientist, be sure to acquire strong abilities in reading and writing, and also learn how to accurately express your ideas.
 
Dr. Betzig’s lecture was titled “Imaging Biological Structure and Dynamics from Molecules to Organisms.” In addition to more than 300 Tsinghua faculty and students, the lecture was also attended by high school students from all over northern Taiwan. After his talk, Dr. Betzig graciously responded to students’ questions and also took selfies with them.
 
Opening a window onto the nano-scale world
 
NTHU vice president and chief of staff Lyu Ping-chiang said in his introduction that Dr. Betzig won the Nobel Prize by overcoming the diffraction limitations of optical microscopes—a problem that remained unsolved for more than 100 years. He invented the “super-resolved fluorescence microscopy,” which uses lasers to make the fluorescent molecules in the target material emit light at different times, then demarcating and recording the exact position of the molecules in space, and finally combining them into a single image. This new technology makes it possible to observe nano-scale objects.
 
The invention of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy has led to a number of major breakthroughs in the biological sciences. In the past, scientists could only see the surface of cells, but now they can see the pores in the nuclear membrane and the activity inside the cell. In the field of neuroscience, this new technology can be used to observe the synaptic gap between two nerve cells, which will facilitate the development of new treatments for such neuro-degenerative disorders as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington's disease.
 
During the lecture Dr. Betzig displayed a number of remarkable 4D animations showing inner ear cells, stem cells, and even cancer cells in fluorescent pink, bright blue, and deep purple.
 
Prof. Chiang Ann-shyn, dean of the College of Life Science and director of the Brain Research Center, gave a talk at the 2016 International Microscopy Congress along with Dr. Betzig. After the congress, Dr. Betzig said that super-resolved fluorescence microscopy and the biological tissue transparency technology developed by Chiang are the two most important developments in biological research, and urged Chiang to conduct joint research with his former student Dr. Chen Bi-chang, an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica. As a result, the Brain Research Center started to use a combination of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy and biological tissue transparency technology to record the position of the brain proteins that control memory formation.
 
Opening new areas of research
 
Dr. Chen Bi-chang said that Dr. Betzig is a rather unusual scientist, in that he doesn’t teach at a university, and that the Nobel Prize was practically the first prize he ever won. He also said that a motion picture company is planning to make Betzig’ s amazing story of fortitude and eccentricity into a film.
 
Dr. Betzig stated that for a long time he and his fellow researchers were working from 4:30 in the morning to 10:00 in the evening. He also said that for a good scientist, there will never be a problem of finding a research topic, however, the real problem is choosing the right one. Chen said that when he told his teacher that he wanted to join his research team, Dr. Betzig asked "can you work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day?"
 
A gifted and original thinker, while pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering physics at Cornell University, Dr. Betzig published an important paper on near-field optics in the journal Science. After obtaining his Ph.D. in 1988, he began working at Bell Labs. When the lab was closed in 1996, having grown tired of the academic environment, he began working for his father's company, Ann Arbor Machine Company, but his enthusiasm to do research remained undiminished. Ten years later, together with his old friend Harald Hess, working in his living room with a budget of little more than US$20,000, he developed an imaging method called “photo-activated localization microscopy” (PALM), which laid the foundation for winning the Prize.
 
Dr. Betzig often says that he likes variety, so when he finds that lots of other researchers have begun to work in a field of research he has pioneered, he moves to a new topic.
 
After the talk, high school student Hsiao Ching-jih said that he appreciated how Dr. Betzig was able to make complex subjects easily understood by ordinary high school students, and that his talk was very helpful for students interested in pursuing careers in academia.
 
Zhang Shibiao, a High school teacher said that he brought 30 students to the lecture, and that "even if they can't fully understand all the details of Dr. Betzig’s research, it’s still very inspiring. "
 
Dr. Betzig also gave a memorable synopsis of his colorful career. While working at his father’s company, he spent four years developing a high speed motion control technology based on an electrohydraulic hybrid drive with adaptive control algorithms. He then spent three years marketing it, but in the end sold only two sets, precipitating a midlife crisis, during which he spent a few years as a house husband. Eventually, however, his enthusiasm for research led him back into academia, and the rest is history.
 
For a number of years the College of Life Science and the Brain Research Center have been using advanced optical microscopy to decipher the functions and neural structures of the brain, including groundbreaking research on the neural pathways of the fruit fly. In addition to presenting his own research, during his visit Dr.Betzig also took the opportunity to meet with NTHU faculty to discuss their research projects.
 
NTHU students chatting with Dr. Betzig after his lecture.

NTHU students chatting with Dr. Betzig after his lecture.

NTHU vice president and chief of staff Lyu Ping-chiang presenting Dr. Betzig with a commemorative plaque.

NTHU vice president and chief of staff Lyu Ping-chiang presenting Dr. Betzig with a commemorative plaque.

Chiang Ann-shyn, dean of the College of Life Science, presenting Dr. Betzig with a map of the neural pathways of a fruit fly inside a crystal.

Chiang Ann-shyn, dean of the College of Life Science, presenting Dr. Betzig with a map of the neural pathways of a fruit fly inside a crystal.

On October 19 Eric Betzig gave the 2018 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU.

On October 19 Eric Betzig gave the 2018 Nobel Laureate Lecture at NTHU.

Student taking a selfie with Dr. Betzig after the lecture.

Student taking a selfie with Dr. Betzig after the lecture.

 

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