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The 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three researchers who developed a technique that helps scientists reveal some of the smallest details of life. Richard Henderson, Joachim Frank, and Jacques Dubochet received the prize for their work on cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM, which allows scientists to take pictures of not just molecules, but atoms themselves, and view how they behave and interact.

Why it matters: The full potential of cryo-EM is only just being explored, but it is already been used to address practical problems. Cryo-EM revealed the atomic structure of the Zika virus, which could help scientists design vaccines and learn why it causes microcephaly. Eventually, researchers would like to use it to create movies of proteins and molecules at work.

How it works: Cryo-EM builds upon electron microscopy, a technique developed almost 100 years ago that creates an image by shooting a beam of electrons at a specimen. Most living organisms are comprised of water, but for electron microscopy to work, the object needs to be in a vacuum - but vacuums dry out objects, which changes their structure. Cryo-electron microscopy instead traps the specimen below a thin film of frozen, glasslike water, letting scientists view the molecules in the same environment they naturally occur. It could lead to "a revolution in biochemistry," says the Academy.

The winners:

  • Joachim Frank from Columbia University refined the process of electron microscopy. He photographs the shadows of molecules. Different angled molecules produce different shadows. Those images can be combined to infer a 3D structure.
  • Richard Henderson from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K. took the first high-resolution picture of a protein using the technique. Prior to this, researchers had believed that electron microscopy could only be used to image non-living objects.
  • Jacques Dubochet from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland found a way to freeze the molecules without causing image-obscuring ice crystals to form. Now we can see not just the outer shapes of the molecules, but the atomic details inside.

What's next: Cryo-EM is still in its early days, but there's a lot it can do. Because cryo-EM involves flash-freezing molecules, the pictures capture a moment in time. Researchers hope to assemble these freeze-frame images into a movie, so they can view how proteins move and interact in cells.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.