Moerner went on to get multiple degrees in physics and math, including his PhD, and last year he won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
BioMed SA honored San Antonio native Moerner Thursday night by awarding him the 10th annual Julio Palmaz Award for Innovation in Healthcare and Biosciences. More than 500 people turned out for the event, which took place at the Grand Hyatt.
“Tonight we’re especially pleased to celebrate the success of a man who grew up here in San Antonio and graduated from Jefferson High School and went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor.
“This is a testament to what bright young minds in our city can aspire to and achieve,” Taylor said.
Even the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School attended the event.
Moerner, during his presentation to the crowd, acknowledged the importance of his education in San Antonio as providing the foundation for his science career. He showed a picture of himself as the winner of his 9th grade science fair. He also credited a high school counselor with providing him with information to apply for a full scholarship as an Alexander S. Langsdorf Engineering Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Moerner earned three bachelor’s degrees in physics, mathematics and electrical engineering. He went on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in physics from Cornell University.
In high school, Moerner participated in band, amateur radio club, math and science contest team, national honor society and the speech and debate team. He also achieved the status of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts.
His parents helped him immensely in his love of learning, Moerner said. His mother read to him every night from birth to five years old, he said. And his father, a member of the U.S. Air Force, encouraged him to take things apart and troubleshoot problems with automobiles and electronics.
Moerner, the Harry S. Mosher Professor of Chemistry at Stanford, shares the Nobel Prize with Eric Betzig of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stefan W. Hell of the Max Plank Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany. They received the prize “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”
“For a long time optical microscopy was held back by a presumed limitation: that it would never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light,” according to a news release from the Nobel Prize organization. “Helped by fluorescent molecules the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 ingeniously circumvented this limitation. Their groundbreaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.”
Moerner was the first person to visualize a single molecule. His later research with fluorescent light allowed him to see molecules turning on and off and allowed researchers to study smaller molecular structures.
Moerner’s discovery is leading to breakthroughs in research on detecting and treating various diseases. In particular, his research has been used to reveal how a mutation in proteins leads to Huntington’s disease and damages the brain.
Moerner ended his presentation with a plea to parents and educators to inspire kids to pursue careers in science and to question their assumptions and pursue their passions.