NEW YORK —Three researchers won a Nobel Prize on Wednesday for developing a microscope technique that lets scientists see exquisite details of the molecules that drive life – providing a front-row seat to study these tiny performers in their biological dance.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said molecules can be captured down to the level of their atoms, and snapshots can catch them in mid-movement. That can help reveal how they interact.

“This method has moved biochemistry into a new era,” the academy said in awarding its chemistry prize to Switzerland’s Jacques Dubochet of the University of Lausanne, German-born U.S. citizen Joachim Frank at New York’s Columbia University, and Briton Richard Henderson of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

The detailed images may pave the way for developing new medicines, vaccines and industrial chemicals, but experts said such payoffs are largely in the future.

“This is a technique that is just starting to find its way into the research community,” said Allison A. Campbell, president of the American Chemical Society. It was recently used to reveal the structure of the Zika virus.

The method is called cryo-electron microscopy.