2016 Paterson Medal and prize of the Institute of Physics

Professor Malte Gather, University of St Andrews, for inventing a way of generating laser light within live cells and pioneering the application of this concept for the life sciences, and for his work on organic LEDs, which find applications in the display industry and in biophotonics.

Photo of Malte Gather

Professor Malte Gather is an expert in biophotonics and organic optoelectronics and has made major, internationally recognised contributions to both areas.

Gather is well known for pioneering the concept of living lasers. In his seminal Nature Photonics paper, recognised by the IOP as one of the top 10 breakthroughs in physics in 2011, he showed how individual living cells can be turned into tiny lasers.

Initially, the community argued that – as with the original laser developed in 1960 – the living laser was a solution in search of a problem. Gather, however, has built an impressive research activity around his original idea, and demonstrated its usefulness in a number of settings – most notably his recent demonstration of barcode-type cell tagging, which uses the sharp and distinct emission spectrum of lasing cells to unambiguously identify cells within large populations.

Gather has also made major contributions to the field of organic optoelectronics and organic LEDs, publishing important papers on organic LEDs and on organic emitter materials. He is also among the very first in the world to develop organic LEDs for applications in biophotonics, recently pioneering their use in optogenetics and neuroscience.

In 2012, Gather was awarded a fellowship from the Daimler-Benz Foundation – one of only 10 such awards to be made across Germany. He is considered to be a leader of the next generation, not only in applied physics, but also in emerging areas at the interface between physics and biology.