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A STED-y route to commercialization
Jeffrey M. Perkel, Ph.D.
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Of course, not every microscope born into an academic lab makes it so far, or follows the same path to commercialization. In 2009, Nikon announced two super-resolution microscope systems of its own, the N-SIM and the N-STORM. The former was based on a technology invented by Mats Gustaffson in the lab of John Sedat at the University of California, San Francisco; the latter stems from work by Xiaowei Zhuang's lab at Harvard University.

According to general manager Stephen Ross of the product and marketing division at Nikon Instruments, though the two instruments were launched simultaneously, the N-STORM took only about a year to bring to market, whereas the N-SIM took five. That, he explains, is because the former required mostly a software upgrade to Nikon's existing TIRF-based systems, whereas the latter represented more significant hardware development. “For SIM, we had to design from the ground up,” Ross says.

In a PNAS editorial published two weeks after Hell's 2000 publication, Shimon Weiss of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wrote that the invention “has the potential to transform the fluorescence microscopy ‘Renaissance’ we are currently experiencing into an ‘Enlightenment Millennium.’” Certainly, if citation counts and user uptake are any guide, STED is making traction.

But for Hell, that vindication is not what counts. “I have a lot of fun showing you can do this more simply than anyone thought,” he says.

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