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Nobel laureate winner of Palmaz
August 1, 2015

By Peggy O'Hare, San Antonio Express-News

A San Antonio native who captured the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2014 for his work developing the first super-resolution microscope is returning to his hometown for another honor.

Dr. W.E. Moerner, a chemistry professor and applied physics professor at Stanford University in California, has been chosen as the winner of this year's Julio Palmaz Award, given by the local nonprofit BioMed SA for innovations in the health care and bioscience fields. He will be honored at a Sept. 10 dinner in San Antonio.

Moerner, 62, a 1971 graduate of San Antonio's Thomas Jefferson High School, is the first Nobel laureate to receive the Palmaz Award.

The super-resolution microscope that Moerner helped pioneer lets scientists look inside live cells and track single molecules, viewing an image more than 10 times beyond the optical diffraction limit of light.

The technology allows scientists to view molecules in "exquisite" detail, said Dr. James Lechleiter, a professor of cellular and structural biology and a neuroscientist at San Antonio's University of Texas Health Science Center.

"It's an ultra-high-definition, if you want to call it that, view of microscopy," Lechleiter said Friday. "If you go from a regular TV to a high-definition TV - it's sort of along the same idea."

Lechleiter and Dr. David Weiss, dean of the health science center's graduate school of biomedical sciences, nominated Moerner for the Palmaz Award.

"I'm incredibly excited to receive this award," Moerner said by phone Friday from a conference in Hawaii. "It's a wonderful recognition, and I'm very happy to receive it from the biomedical community in San Antonio."

The health science center in San Antonio became the first institution in Texas and the second nationwide to purchase and assemble the so-called STORM microscope in 2011.

Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy uses fluorescence to isolate a single molecule and measures the light it emits to determine the molecule's location, movement and function. This helps scientists understand interactions inside a cell. The process captures multiple image frames, creating a single, super-resolution image for scientists to view, the health science center said.

Moerner compared the fluorescence process to the glow exhibited by fireflies.

The technology was commercialized by Nikon, Lechleiter said. The health science center's microscope is housed at its South Texas Research Facility and is used by many scientists in San Antonio, according to the nomination letter written by Weiss and Lechleiter.

"The contributions of Dr. Moerner to science are nothing short of monumental. ... There can be little contention that his work will have ramifications for many years to come," the nomination letter states.

Moerner was born in California but spent his entire childhood in San Antonio, attending James Madison Elementary, Maverick Elementary and Longfellow Middle School. After graduating high school, he worked for several summers at the UT medical school in San Antonio that ultimately became the health science center.

BioMedSA, which selects a Palmaz Award recipient each year, is a nonprofit group that works to attract biomedical and life science companies to San Antonio.


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