Zeiss microscope developers win German President’s award

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Nominated for the German Future Prize (Deutscher Zukunftspreis) 2022 (from left to right): Ralf Wolleschensky, Dr Jörg Siebenmorgen and Dr Thomas Kalkbrenner Picture: Deutscher Zukunftspreis/Ansgar Pudenz

Zeiss microscope experts Dr Thomas Kalkbrenner, Dr Jörg Siebenmorgen, and Ralf Wolleschensky have been awarded the German President’s Federal Award for Technology and Innovation for their contribution in the development of the microscope system, Zeiss Lattice Lightsheet 7.

The award, presented by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, honours scientists for exceptional achievements in technology, engineering and the life sciences that present a clear and recognisable benefit for society, the environment, and the economy.

It has a cash value of €250,000.

The Lattice Lightsheet 7 enables, for the first time, biomedical researchers to observe living cells live and in 3D for hours or even days. 

It can be used to study, for example, how cells react to certain active agents, or what happens when viruses or bacteria enter cells. 

The problem for researchers studying living cells with fluorescence microscopes used to be the illumination: the intensities of the laser radiation used are higher than those of the sun by a factor of 1,000 or more. This intense illumination can permanently damage living cells. 

A significant reduction in this photo damage is achieved with light sheet microscopy: unlike all other microscopes, the laser beam – in the form of a light sheet – is applied only in the area of the sample that is in the focus of the objective lens.

To do this, the team had to tame the laser in a special way and completely rearrange the objective lenses because the cells grow on the cover slips in culture vessels like Petri dishes or multiwell plates. 

They developed a completely new type of microscope optic that enables a person to look through the sample vessels ‒ at an angle and from below ‒ at the cells inside without artefacts. All this has been developed into an easy-to-use, compact system with high potential for automation.

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