The 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented on Saturday, May 21, during the 79th annual Seminar Day. Each week, the Caltech Alumni Association will share a story about a recipient.
In the fall of 1994, Eric Betzig contemplated what he thought might be the end of his scientific career. He had an intriguing idea of how to capture images at incredibly small scales that were beyond the limits of what was then possible—but, having left a successful research position at Bell Labs to focus on raising his newborn child, he lacked the resources to pursue it.
"I decided to publish the idea, just put it out into the scientific world," Betzig said. "And I thought that would pretty much be the end of it. I thought I was done with science."
Hardly. Twenty years later, Betzig's paper, along with a number of significant achievements afterward, was cited in his being awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.