ZERNIKE, FRITS. 1888-1966. THE 1953 NOBEL PRIZE MEDAL FOR PHYSICS.
Lot 98
ZERNIKE, FRITS. 1888-1966.
THE 1953 NOBEL PRIZE MEDAL FOR PHYSICS.
US$ 100,000 - 150,000
£75,000 - 110,000

Lot Details
ZERNIKE, FRITS. 1888-1966. THE 1953 NOBEL PRIZE MEDAL FOR PHYSICS. ZERNIKE, FRITS. 1888-1966. THE 1953 NOBEL PRIZE MEDAL FOR PHYSICS.
ZERNIKE, FRITS. 1888-1966.
THE 1953 NOBEL PRIZE MEDAL FOR PHYSICS. PRESENTED TO FRITS ZERNIKE FOR THE INVENTION OF THE PHASE-CONTRAST MICROSCOPE.
Nobel medal, in gold, 65.9 mm diameter, 204.1 grams. Designed by Erik Lundberg and struck by the Kungliga Mynt och Justeringsverkey (Swedish Royal Mint). Marked on edge "MOV GULD 1953." Obverse with bust of Alfred Nobel facing left, "ALFR. / NOBEL to left of bust, "NAT. / MDCCC / XXXIII / OB. / MDCCC / XCVI" to right of bust, signed "LINDBERG" at the lower left edge. Reverse features allegorical vignette of Nature in the form of a goddess emerging from the clouds and holding a cornucopia. Her veil is held up by a figure representing the Genius of Science. Legend above the vignette reads "INVENTAS VITAM IUVAT EXCOLUISSE PER ARTES," plaque below vignette reads "F.ZERNIKE / MCMLIII," motto to either side of plaque reads "REG. ACAD. / SCIENT. SUEC." (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences).

Born in Amsterdam in 1888, Frits Zernike was exposed at an early age to physics and chemistry through his parents, who were both mathematics teachers. He attended the University of Amsterdam, and won a prize from the Dutch Society of Sciences for his work on opalescence in gases, which would develop into his doctoral thesis. Although he focused on statistics and mathematical physics in his early career, he turned primarily to optics starting in 1930. While researching spectral lines created by a diffraction grating (a planar or concave mirror with a large number of equidistant grooves ruled on its surface) he noted that there were lines of diffracted light that were out of phase with the main lines from the grating. He then developed a method for converting those variations in phase into variations in light amplitude (brightness), and thus differences in contrast in the visual image through a microscope. His "phase-contrast" microscope revolutionized microbiology, greatly expanding the details a viewer could see and allowing microbiologists to examine living specimens which previously would have been stained and likely killed in the process.

His great leap forward went relatively unnoticed when he constructed the first phase-contrast microscope in 1938, even though at the time a lack of specimen contrast was one of the major concerns in optical microscopy. The German company, Zeiss, began producing the microscopes in 1941, and after the war, most microscope manufacturers rushed to produce microscopes with this enhanced mode of specimen illumination. Soon, his invention swept microbiology, altering and expanding the possibilities within the field. In 1952, he was awarded the Rumford Medal by the Royal Society, and then the Nobel Prize the following year. The mathematically trained Dutch physicist had finally made his outstanding contribution—in the field of microbiology.

Footnotes

  • INVENTION OF THE PHASE-CONTRAST MICROSCOPE.
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