Technology transfer award for light microscopes with molecular resolution

Successful economic exploitation of results from basic research

December 03, 2021

The German Physical Society has awarded the technology transfer prize to abberior Instruments, the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and Max Planck Innovation. The three institutions receive the award for the entrepreneurial implementation of research results in the field of high-resolution light microscopy.

Possible through successful innovation and transfer work: High-resolution microscopy makes what is happening in living cells accessible. The structure of the fibers of the cell skeleton (visible in blue) and the mitochondria (visible in yellow) are clearly recognizable. The microscope used and the dyes are being (further) developed at the same time at abberior.

abberior Instruments markets the world's only light microscopes with molecular high resolution. The Göttingen-based company emerged in 2012 from the NanoBiophotonics department of Stefan Hell at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. Max-Planck-Innovation GmbH, as the link between science and business, accompanied the founding of the company and licensed the findings in the field of fluorescence microscopy to the then start-up. abberior Instruments is now represented with 85 employees in Europe, North America and China.

The basis for the spin-off of abberior Instruments GmbH was the groundbreaking discovery at the Göttingen Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry that the Abbe diffraction limit can be overcome with suitable physical effects and the resolution of conventional light microscopes can be increased by up to ten times - and in principle even more. In the process, fluorescent molecules that are very close to each other are sequentially kept dark so that they do not light up all at once, but one after the other. They can thus be differentiated in the light microscope. Hell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 for this groundbreaking work.

Gerald Donnert, abberior managing director, is pleased about the recognition and at the same time has clear goals in mind: “Ultimately, our microscopes are tools with which one can make fundamental discoveries in biology and medicine that will benefit everyone in the future. At abberior Instruments, we want to equip researchers from all over the world with the sharpest and most powerful fluorescence microscopes that can currently be built.” This advances industrial and academic research and helps to identify the systematics of diseases or life on a molecular scale.

Award for courage and entrepreneurial skills

The physicist spent many years researching high-resolution microscopy in the NanoBiophotonics department of Max Planck Director Stefan Hell. Together with other department colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and researchers from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Donnert and Hell founded abberior Instruments. Hell, who is still the company's scientific advisor to this day, also sees the award as an award for willingness to take risks and entrepreneurial skills: “The technology transfer award is recognition of the founders' courage to start a company at their own risk. He also recognizes their skill in mastering all entrepreneurial challenges in such a way that this spin-off can grow organically due to its technological lead."

Max Planck Innovation Managing Director Jörn Erselius adds:" We are very pleased that we as a technology transfer institution of the Max -Planck-Gesellschaft were able to accompany such a successful company over many years on the way to founding and beyond. abberior Instruments is a prime example of a successful spin-off-based transfer of the results of excellent basic research into outstanding innovative products in the field of microscopy."

The official award ceremony is expected to take place during the DPG annual conference in March 2022.

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