Stefan Hell elected to the Order Pour le mérite

The association honors the Nobel laureate in chemistry and director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences in Göttingen for his special services to science. Admission to the Order is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on researchers or artists in Germany. In addition to Hell, the conductor and musicologist Peter Gülke, the philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the British architect Sir David Chipperfield were also accepted. The decision was announced by the Chancellor of the Order, Hermann Parzinger, on June 22.

“For me, acceptance into this prestigious and tradition-steeped order is another fine recognition of my career,” said the Max Planck director after accepting the election.

The physicist succeeded in overcoming the diffraction limit of light for the first time with the STED microscopy he developed. STED microscopes achieve a resolution of up to 20 nanometers, around ten times sharper than conventional devices. Hell thus revolutionized fluorescence light microscopy, for which he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014. Building on the STED principle, the Max Planck researcher and his team have since increased the resolution by a further tenfold using the MINFLUX and MINSTED methods. With the help of these further developments, even immediately neighboring molecules can be separated from one another by light microscopy – down to a resolution limit of one nanometer. The microscopes can thus make visible even densely packed structures in organelles of cells. Biomolecules moving in the cell can be tracked up to 100 times faster than was possible with previous methods.

After Manfred Eigen (†2019) and Erwin Neher, Stefan Hell is the third scientist at the MPI for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences to be elected to the Order. Albrecht Schöne was the other Göttingen scientist to receive this honor. (kr)

About Stefan Hell 

Stefan Hell studied physics in Heidelberg. After receiving his doctorate in 1990, he did postdoctoral research at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and moved to the University of Turku (Finland) in 1993. There he developed the principle of STED microscopy. From Turku, he went to the Göttingen MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (since Jan. 1, 2022 MPI for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences) in 1997 as head of a Max Planck junior research group, where he and his team demonstrated the operation of the STED method and developed it. In 2002, he was appointed director there and has since headed the NanoBiophotonics department. Since 2016, he has also been director at the MPI for Medical Research in Heidelberg. In addition to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Stefan Hell has received a number of other prizes and honors, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation (2008), the Otto Hahn Prize in Physics (2009), the Körber Prize for European Science (2011), the Kavli Prize for Nanoscience (2014) and the Werner von Siemens Ring (2022).

About the Order Pour le mérite

Frederick the Great endowed the order in 1740 for special military achievements. In 1842, King Frederick William IV of Prussia, on the recommendation of the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, introduced the “Order Pour le mérite for Sciences and Arts,” an award for the civilian class. Von Humboldt became the first chancellor of this order. Since then, the association has been intended to bring together intellectual greats from a wide range of disciplines and arts. After the end of the monarchy in 1918, the constitution of the Weimar Republic prohibited the state from awarding orders of any kind. In 1952, the then Federal President Theodor Heuss resumed the tradition of exchange. The Order is financed and supervised by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. It is under the protectorate of the Federal President. Former members include Otto von Bismarck, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Käthe Kollwitz, Werner von Siemens and Giuseppe Verdi.
The Order currently has 39 German and 38 foreign members, including 15 Nobel Prize winners. According to the order’s statutes, only men and women who have earned an excellent name through widespread recognition of their achievements in science or art can be admitted to the order.

Link to the MPI-NAT press release (in German)