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Nobel Prize Laureate William E. Moerner Speaks in Qizhen Global Vision Lecture Series

Mar. 30, 2017



On the evening of March 27, Prof. William E. Moerner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014, delivered a speech entitled “What Can You Learn from Watching Single Molecules? From Super-Resolution Imaging to Nanoscale Probes of 3D Dynamics in Cells”. “We should constantly question conventional wisdom and hypotheses and get ready for an accident anytime. When Nobel Prize laureates tell you that something is impossible, don’t believe them. They simply want to inspire your craving to prove that they are wrong,” said he.

Prof. Moerner is currently a professor of chemistry and a professor, by courtesy, of applied physics at Stanford University. He is credited with achieving the first optical detection and spectroscopy of a single molecule in condensed phases, along with his postdoc, Lothar Kador. Optical study of single molecules has subsequently become a widely used single-molecule experiment in chemistry, physics and biology.

In his speech, Prof. Moerner shared with participating students a bunch of valuable suggestions.

1) Science is intriguing. “Everybody knows that the face of the Nobel Prize medal is the profile of Alfred Nobel, but do you know what is on the opposite side of the medal?” asked Prof. Moerner. Inscribed on the opposite side of the Nobel Medal for Physics and Chemistry is “Nature in the form of a goddess resembling Isis, emerging from the clouds and holding in her arms a cornucopia”. Prof. Moerner jokingly said that this beautiful picture gave him goose bumps. Thus, engaging in scientific research is conducive to the unveiling of Nature, which is definitely quite interesting.

2) You need to know where your passion lies. Whether you are enthusiastic about science or something else, passion is of vital importance to research because you need to have determination, strong will and appropriate approaches to do research work and complete it with the utmost care while corroborating every detail.

3) You need to identify the right mode of operation. For example, everyone has a cell phone in his hand. It is based on an accumulation of diversified knowledge in physics, chemistry, material science and engineering, but how many of you know the principle of every application? You need to challenge traditional wisdom and assumptions.

4) When you endeavor to find out how something works and why you need to know it, prepare for any possible accident.

5) You need to perceive failure as a learning process. While doing research in cutting-edge areas, you will have predictions about the result to some extent, but you cannot be 100 percent sure. Therefore, you should make every effort to learn from your failure.

All of these factors make scientific research a very thrilling job because science enables us to face the world in a rational and foreseeable manner.