Uli Dahmen, Peter Denes and Kenneth Downing are the recipients of the 2015 Berkeley Lab Prize − Lifetime Achievement Award for their scientific advances and leadership in making Berkeley Lab among the world’s forefront centers for electron microscopy. Director Paul Alivisatos noted that Dahmen, Denes and Downing have been dominant forces in transmission electron microscopy for decades, well known for their advancements in materials science, electron detector development and structural biology respectively, making the Lab a global center for high-resolution imaging research.
Since 1981 Uli Dahmen has made key contributions to the atomic-scale microstructure of materials through his work at the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM), becoming its Director in 1992. His efforts to develop aberration correction methods culminated in the record-breaking TEAM (Transmission Electron Aberration-corrected Microscope), which revolutionized high-resolution microscopy throughout the world. In addition to his impressive individual work, Dahmen is also recognized for the highly-productive research environment he fostered at NCEM.
Also at NCEM, Peter Denes pioneered the development of direct electron detectors for electron and x-ray microscopy. His focus on transmission electron microscopy (EM) revolutionized the detectors used to visualize macromolecules in cryo-EM through developing direct electron detectors. These detectors improve spatial resolution 100-fold, temporal resolution 1,000-fold, reveal atomic structure without the need for crystallization – and represent a revolution in the field. The medical and scientific imaging company Gatan now manufactures Denes’s detectors, with dozens deployed worldwide for structural biology, chemistry and materials science. Denes led the group that designed and constructed TEAM, which became the world’s highest resolution EM instrument in 2009 through advanced electron optics. TEAM was recognized with a Secretary of Energy Achievement Award.
Ken Downing has been a pioneer in structural biology since his arrival at Berkeley Lab in 1977. He also served as the President of the Microscopy Society of America, and now heads the Life Sciences Division’s Structural Biology Department. The Downing Lab has been a magnet for leading scientists – for example, Eva Nogales, who recently won the Mildred Cohn Award in Biological Chemistry, was Downing’s post-doc beginning in 1993, and they conducted definitive TEM work that revealed the atomic structure of tubulin. Downing also led the determination of bacteriorhodopsin structure and the plant light-harvesting complex. Many of his successes resulted from his development of spot scan imaging (minimizing beam induced movement) and dynamic focus correction (for clarity). Downing’s microtubules discoveries are milestones in understanding the cytoskeleton’s role in cell division. His work on the binding site and mode of action of anticancer agents (notably Taxol) exemplifies Berkeley Lab’s efforts to provide solutions to human needs.
Dahmen, Denes and Downing are outstanding examples of Berkeley Lab science. Their lifetime commitment to team science has yielded world-leading instrumentation and discovery, and they have made Berkeley Lab an acme of electron microscopy.