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United Kingdom Science

World's Most Powerful Optical Microscope 163

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-can-see-my-neutron-from-here dept.
gamricstone writes "Scientists have produced the world's most powerful optical microscope, which could help understand the causes of many viruses and diseases. Previously, the standard optical microscope could only see items around one micrometre — 0.001 millimetres — clearly. But now, by combining an optical microscope with a transparent microsphere, dubbed the 'microsphere nanoscope,' the Manchester researchers can see 20 times smaller — 50 nanometres ((5 x 10-8m) — under normal lights. This is beyond the theoretical limit of optical microscopy. 'Seeing inside a cell directly without [it] dying and seeing living viruses directly could revolutionize the way cells are studied and allow us to examine closely viruses and biomedicine for the first time.'"
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World's Most Powerful Optical Microscope

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:05PM (#35359222)

    I didn't know microscopy was such a dangerous line of work...

    • Cell is incredibly dangerous. He's already absorbed 17 and 18 and achieved his ultimate form.
    • It's about as dangerous as being jailed, it seems.
    • For those who don't have English as their mother tongue, "dying" refers to the use of a tincture, not to a destructive process for the cell. Inb4 people wondering what the hell are we talking about.
      • by Ptolemarch (11506)
        I'm pretty sure the participle of dye [wiktionary.org] is dyeing [wiktionary.org], actually.
      • by toastar (573882)
        Isn't that dyeing? [websters-o...ionary.org]
      • by Zorpheus (857617)
        No, it's about killing the cell, since a cell does not survive an electron microscope, and it's probably no possible to see a living cell with a scanning near-field microscope or an atomic fore microscope. For a scanning tunneling microscope it would have to be covered with a conducting layer,so that one is out too.
      • Although some of the dyes used do kill cells - including all of those required for viewing with electron microscopes.

      • Alright, alright! I know the dye/die joke was lame, but taking it seriously only hurts my feelings.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Inzkeeper (767071)
      "Among other tiny objects the scientists will be able to examine are anodized aluminum oxide nano-structures, and nano-patterns on Blue-Ray CVC disks, not previously visible with an optical microscope."

      Hmmm... Sounds like a DMCA violation to me.
    • Yeah, that one had me scratching my head for a second. I think the author meant "dyeing". Yes, it may look wrong, but it's spelled right for obvious reasons.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:06PM (#35359232) Journal
    What the hell? Don't you guys know the IEEE standard scientific notation for writing numbers with a characteristic and a mantissa? 5.0e-08 m
    • I prefer engineering notation (indices of 3,6,9):
      50e-09 m

      BTW why does it matter if they wrote 50 nanometers?

      • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:31PM (#35359584)

        I prefer engineering notation (indices of 3,6,9): 50e-09 m

        BTW why does it matter if they wrote 50 nanometers?

        I think the GP is largely complaining that they left off the 'e' in front of the exponent. Perhaps '-8' was written in superscript and somehow that formatting was lost. "5 x" is atypical but "10-8m" is wrong.

        You are correct that engineering notation would have made more sense, reminding readers what a nanometer is.

    • We cell biologists aren't very good with math, no. I know nano is smaller than micro. So nano is helpful while scientific notation would just anger and scare me.
    • by shiftless (410350)

      Your signature is oddly appropriate here.

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      In any scientific discipline, 5.0e-08 is not the same as 5e-08. The first implies an extra significant figure of precision.

  • That confused me.

    So is the theory wrong, is the article wrong (yes, I did RTFA), or did they find some clever workaround?

    Also, at 50nm, would quantum effects be noticeable? That is, uncertainty?

    • by avandesande (143899) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:22PM (#35359480) Journal

      No, the theory is correct, but they aren't doing a direct observation... they are covering the target with little spheres that are in direct contact and then observing the light that comes out of the little spheres- no rules about our understanding of diffraction limits are broken.

      • by FunkyELF (609131)

        No, the theory is correct, but they aren't doing a direct observation... they are covering the target with little spheres that are in direct contact and then observing the light that comes out of the little spheres- no rules about our understanding of diffraction limits are broken.

        I don't really understand this.
        If those little spheres are acting as lenses then how is it not a direct observation?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You're directly observing the spheres, which are directly observing the cells. Therefore you are indirectly observing the cells.

          • by Nikkos (544004)
            But the sphere is a lens is it not? How is it different than any of the other (less spherical) lenses that make up the microscope? You're still observing the cell through cleverly aligned lenses...
        • If those little spheres are acting as lenses then how is it not a direct observation?

          You can recover information that is usually lost in far field observation by putting something (like these spheres) very close to the source that turns those evanescent waves [wikipedia.org] into propagating waves you can observe in the far field.

          • Doesn't that violate conservation of energy ?

            The whole point of evanescent waves is that they are standing perfectly still. They're present, but they don't oscillate, they don't move, they don't grow and shrink, so they don't transmit anything : there's no energy available for that.

            So how would you get a system without energy to transmit ?

            • They're not perfectly still, they are standing waves. Their equation is something like cos(wt)exp(-kx), meaning every point oscillates in phase and the amplitude decays quickly with distance.

              If you put a medium with a different refractive index (can't remember if higher or lower, I'd have to work it out), you can get a propagating wave from that.

    • I was confused as well. I think, though, that the "beyond the theoretical limits" statement applies to typical microscopes which use an aperture for visible wavelengths (which would restrict viewing to objects far larger than 50nm). Somehow, this transparent microsphere that they use is a different structure that gets around the restrictions of a typical aperture, though I don't know how. So to answer your question more concisely, the theory isn't really wrong, instead they found a clever workaround (to whi
    • Even better:

      The new method has no theoretical limit in the size of feature that can be seen.
      [Professor Li said] "Theoretically, there is no limit on how small an object we will be able to see."

      So, below the Plank scale then? Indeed, below the wavelength of the light used by the microscope?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They're already smaller than the wavelength of light used by the microscope. Resolution at 50nm, Wavelength is 200nm.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:58PM (#35359898)

      So is the theory wrong, is the article wrong (yes, I did RTFA), or did they find some clever workaround?

      This is one of several clever workarounds [wikipedia.org]. The article lacks details, I'm guessing it's because the concept is pretty complex. I only half understand the structured illumination method mentioned in that wiki article and I think that's probably a simpler concept.

  • This will help make de-fabbing chips much easier, as they'll be able to directly read the circuits on smaller die.

    I, for one, can't wait for something like this to make it to the home market.

    "Timmy, here's why your nose is runny! See? A rhinovirus! Here, let's take a picture and forward it to your teacher."

    • Yes, because I'm sure that it'll be priced for home market really soon.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, why would anyone bother miniaturizing expensive research equipment, like computers, radio transceivers, cathode ray tubes, plasma phosphor grids, internal combustion engines or refrigeration coils, just so people could have them at home? That's just silly.

        • I don't think that applies to microscopes... The market for internal combustion engines and refrigerators is slightly larger than that of precision microscopes.

    • "Timmy, here's why your nose is runny! See? A rhinovirus! Here, let's take a picture and forward it to your teacher."

      One of the currently available super-resolution microscopes, the OMX, is running at 1.2 million dollars. [iu.edu]

      Anyway, for a virus, you'd really want to use EM, and I've heard of some "cheap" SEMs available for around $400.

    • by Jaqenn (996058)
      There's a TED talk about this concept that you ought to watch. http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_derisi_hunts_the_next_killer_virus.html [ted.com]

      I'm butchering his words, but it's something like they make a wafer with millions of slots shaped like every virus they've ever seen, and you spread infected fluid on the chip and the area with slots that shape turns a different color.

      Skip to about 10:00 mark for a relation of them using it to diagnose a viral infection that had never been documented before.
  • 'Seeing inside a cell directly without dying' I'd call that a huge advance, it seems cell biology used to be right up there with kamikaze-piloting for a profession.
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:15PM (#35359382) Homepage Journal

    Gee thanks, after all those thousands of cpu-hours my machines spent simulating proteins interacting, they can apparently now just look at the damn thing and record the results. Damn you, progress...

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      Gee thanks, after all those thousands of cpu-hours my machines spent simulating proteins interacting, they can apparently now just look at the damn thing and record the results.

      Yeah. I, too, was rather dissapointed when videos replaced ascii porn.

    • Shoulda gone with SETI instead! :P
  • peek-a-boo!
    I can see you
    and I know what you do
    so put your hands on your face
    and cover up your eyes
    don't look until i signal
    peek-a-boo! peek-a-boo! peek-a-boo!
    the way that we weren't is
    what we'll become
    so please pay attention
    while i show you some
    of what's about to happen
    peek-a-boo!
    I know what you do
    cause I do it too
    laugh if you want to or
    say you don't care
    if you cannot see it you
    think it's not there
    it doesn't work that way

    mother's baw knows it too
    didn't he so do?

  • I hope they can also reverse the technique and use it for lithography.

  • The microscopic glass spheres are dropped onto the sample. Then look at the glass spheres with the microscope. A glass sphere acts as a lens and you can focus on the image in it.

    Like little magnifying lenses
    --
    Like putting too much air in a balloon

  • How it works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gbridge (746125) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:29PM (#35359562)
    There's (a bit) more information on the technique here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12612209 [bbc.co.uk]
  • really, we're back to Rife [wikipedia.org] again?!!!
    Next somebody will rediscover the t-bacilli that cause cancer.
    And that the Deros live underground, shooting deadly DOR at surface dwellers to give them nightemenmares.

    meh. I guess with the sad state of educmacation in this country, we'll see a lot more of these kind of whackjob claims.
  • by Zouden (232738) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @01:40PM (#35359690)

    Seeing inside a cell directly without dying .. could revolutionize the way cells are studied

    I work in a biology lab, and looking directly into a cell is one of my most dangerous tasks. Lesser men have been struck dead by viewing the horrors that lurk beneath the cell membrane. A microscope that lets us look inside a cell without dying would revolutionise biology forever!

  • Pictures or it didn't happen.
  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @02:26PM (#35360252)
    I built and used scanning electron microscopes back in my distant youth. We always referred to microscopes as "light" or "electron" or even "ion" (yes, we built a prototype ion microscope). All of these have optics in the form of lenses and apertures and could correctly be called optical microscopes.
    • Except that 'optical' doesn't mean 'uses lenses', it means 'uses light'. So no, they couldn't all be called optical microscopes.

    • by syousef (465911)

      I built and used scanning electron microscopes back in my distant youth. We always referred to microscopes as "light" or "electron" or even "ion" (yes, we built a prototype ion microscope). All of these have optics in the form of lenses and apertures and could correctly be called optical microscopes.

      Good God man! I don't care how much it weighed!!!

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      If you built an electron microscope you know it has "lenses" not lenses. The quotes are important - a focusing magnet isn't an optical element. Also, "optical" implies light: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/optics [reference.com].

      Technically there are some scanning electron microscopes that measure created x-rays or cathodoluminescence but it's still a pretty bit stretch to call those optical microscopes. Hybrid electron-optical would be a better description.

  • theoretical limit (Score:4, Informative)

    by u19925 (613350) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @02:30PM (#35360306)
    The summary says, "This is beyond the theoretical limit of optical microscopy". Which theoretical limit? The only theoretical limit that I know is diffraction limit (angular resolution is about wavelength/lens_diameter or lambda/D). But that only applies for objects far off (distance much larger than D^2/lambda. so it is quite accurate for telescopes). There is no direct theoretical limit for microscopes. The semiconductor manufacturing uses near field photolithography for ages where they routinely create features smaller than the diffraction limit.
    • Microscopes are directly limited by diffraction. And near field generally means lambda distances. A normal microscope objective lens is far further away from the sample than this!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Americium (1343605)

      Actually it's worse when things are closer. Focusing plane waves must only bend/reflect the light a little, and a simple parabolic mirror will do. But when you aren't in the far distant limit, the light is still expanding outward, like the light from a candle, in all directions. Now you need something MORE angled than a parabolic mirror, you need to bend the light MORE, so the limit is hit even sooner. This is widely studied, and there are plenty of theoretically sound models taking into account your specif

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      This also reminded me a lot of Quantum's TeraStor project.

  • by Twinbee (767046) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @02:35PM (#35360390) Homepage

    Something I've always wanted to know is why can't scientists throw UV or even xrays on the matter in question and 'transpose' or shift any reflected light back up to the normal visible spectrum? Of course, xrays penetrate objects, but is this 100%, or is a tiny percentage reflected back?

    • by cr42yr1ch (1764012) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @02:55PM (#35360660)
      It is a matter of simplicity of optics, damage to the sample and contrast. Visible light optics are very advanced (i.e. glass lenses), but it starts to get difficult as you head towards shorter wavelenths. X rays, especially high energy (short wavelength) ones, are extremely hard to focus. Short wavelengths of light also damage biological samples (imagine UV and sunburn). A key requirement for generating an image is high contrast, use of very short wavelength light/electrons requires heavy metal staining to get good contrast, not exactly ideal for looking at a living cell.
    • by labnet (457441)

      Something I've always wanted to know is why can't scientists throw UV or even xrays on the matter in question and 'transpose' or shift any reflected light back up to the normal visible spectrum? Of course, xrays penetrate objects, but is this 100%, or is a tiny percentage reflected back?

      This is exactly what Royal Rife (who once worked under Carl Zeis) was claimed to have done.
      He hetrodyned two UV sources incident on the cell to produce sum and difference frequencies, where the difference frequency was visible light.
      The story goes on that he was then able to destroy specific virii (including cancerous) by using a highly modulated RF carrier, where the modulation frequency (ie not so much the specific carrier frequency but rather its amplitude modulation frequency).
      Then the consipracy theor

      • by Raptoer (984438)

        The story goes on that he was then able to destroy specific virii (including cancerous) by using a highly modulated RF carrier, where the modulation frequency (ie not so much the specific carrier frequency but rather its amplitude modulation frequency).
        Then the consipracy theories start, where his machine threatened the cancer establishment (AMA), and all his work, machines and lab were maliciously destroyed/discredited.

        Cells are cancerous, but virii can cause a cell to be cancerous. A virus itself cannot be cancerous, because it cannot reproduce alone. More importantly, this magical technique can tell the difference between a healthy cell and a cancerous cell, which might only be two or three switched genes out of trillions? And this will work over my entire body, despite any reflection and other interference?
        Virii are a bit more believable, but still, the difference between two virii could be only a single gene swap.

        Mayb

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      They do. X-ray microscopy has been around for a long time, and is highly developed in areas it's useful in.

      It's not so great for most biology because x-rays tend to go through things pretty well, and when they don't they do a lot of damage. Plus they're a pain to focus. Now, if you want to look at crystals....

  • by Woogiemonger (628172) on Wednesday March 02, 2011 @02:42PM (#35360480)

    I was wondering why they mention "normal light". It's not at all a measure of comparison between this new microscope and its predecessors. I figure it's an artifact of something mentioned by the interviewed scientists. The subject of observation can react to abnormal light levels, and may even die, so they cannot just up the light level.

    I watched this TED talk here: "http://www.ted.com/talks/sheila_patek_clocks_the_fastest_animals.html" which details a scientist's struggles to see a tiny organism (a mantis shrimp) at high speeds, and she stressed "low light" was important, because too much light would kill it. While in the film business, more light equals better video, the same cannot be applied to biology.

    • By "normal light" they mean normal white light illumination, most pre-existing sub-diffraction resolution techniques use illumination of fluorescent dyes which require illumination by a specific light wavelength and do can only detect the stained structures.
  • So, as someone who hasn't studied optics in at least 6 years, and doesn't plan on picking up a book regarding the matter anytime soon, I have a very naive, and possibly silly question.

    Could a similar technique to this be used in reverse to make more powerful telescopes?
    • So, as someone who hasn't studied optics in at least 6 years, and doesn't plan on picking up a book regarding the matter anytime soon, I have a very naive, and possibly silly question.

      Could a similar technique to this be used in reverse to make more powerful telescopes?

      Well, lets see...

      The new nano-imaging system is based on capturing optical, near-field virtual images, which are free from optical diffraction, and amplifying them using a microsphere, a tiny spherical particle which is further relayed and amplified by a standard optical microscope.

      ... So, your new macro-imaging system would be based on releasing actual optical, far-field images, which are subject to optical diffraction, and amplifying them using many macrospheres, huge spherical bodies, which are further relayed and re-focused by a standard optical telescopes.

      I think that's a great idea! In fact, I believe that the technique is already in use.

      That is pretty much the description of using huge collections of macrosphere bodies (planets, stars & black holes), A

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Sure. But it would involve putting a lens very close to the thing you want to look at.

      Magnification isn't usually an important limit for telescopes anyway. The limiting factor is usually how much light you can gather. If you want really high resolution, interferometry already lets us do insane things like see sunspots on other stars.

  • Once again another scientist marginalized, Royal Rife, like Tesla gets no credit.
  • This increase in resolution to ~50 nanometers is about 4X better than the ~200 nanometers (0.2 micrometers) that (because of diffraction) is the absolute best one can obtain with normal, visible light microscopy, assuming one uses oil and apochromatic objectives. For reference, we used to use the diatom, Amphipleura pellucida, which had 40 striae (lines of holes) in 10 micrometers. If we could see the striae (0.25 micrometers apart), we knew we had an excellent objective. If we could count the striae, we
  • Funny that this story of a marvelous new imaging tool omits any actual images.

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