Eagle Scout wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

William E. Moerner was into STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — before it was cool.

And now Moerner, an Eagle Scout and Stanford University researcher, has become one of just 169 individuals in history to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

He shares the award — and the $1.1 million prize — with American Eric Betzig and German Stefan W. Hell. (Each will get almost $370,000 — not a bad payday.)

The award, announced on Oct. 8, recognized the men’s work in “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”

If you know what that means, you’re smarter than me. So the best I can do is paste this description from the Nobel Prize news release:

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. Helped by fluorescent molecules the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 ingeniously circumvented this limitation. Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.

As you’d expect, the list of Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipients reads like a who’s who of incredible women and men since its inception in 1901.

The list includes Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics; Marie Curie, who coined the term radioactivity; and Linus Pauling, one of the founders of quantum chemistry and molecular biology.

Started in San Antonio

Moerner earned Eagle in August 1967 as a member of San Antonio Troop 235, chartered to the Woodlawn Optimist Club.

His dad was the troop’s Scoutmaster. National Scouting Museum docent Kent Knudson was also a member of Troop 235 and remembers his time in the troop fondly.

They met on Wednesday nights at the YMCA, Knudson says. And he remembers of Moerner that “you knew he was going places back then.”

Now that’s an understatement.

Other Eagle Scout Nobel laureates

Moerner isn’t the first (and likely won’t be the last) Eagle Scout to earn a Nobel Prize. Thanks to Scouter Ed Palmer for this list:

  • Peter Agre, chemistry, 2003
  • Thomas Cech, chemistry, 1989
  • Dudley R. Herschbach,chemistry, 1986
  • Frederick Reines, physics, 1995
  • Robert Coleman Richardson, physics, 1996

Hat tip: Thanks to Janice E. Babineaux, director of the National Scouting Museum, for the blog post idea.