A tool gives a new view, virus-level, of the world

March 9, 2011 - 0:0

Researchers report this week that they have constructed the world’s most powerful optical microscope, allowing scientists to see objects the size of a virus.

The findings appear in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications.
The new technology combines traditional optical microscopy with tiny particles, called transparent microspheres that magnify images.
“It’s very simple,” said Lin Li, a laser engineer at the University of Manchester in England and one of the authors of the report. “We used small glass beads on the target surface which we want to see, and after that put it under a standard optical microscope.”
By doing so, Dr. Li and his colleagues were able to study images that were about 50 nanometers in length. The technology will allow scientists to study viruses, DNA and other molecules in real time, without the processing that more sophisticated electron and fluorescence microscopes require, he said.
Still, the new technology offers significantly less power than electron microscopes, which have been around since the 1930s.
The most powerful electron microscopes today can magnify a subject two million times; Dr. Li’s optical technique offers a magnification of only 6,500 times.
“This is just an alternative, to provide an opportunity for scientists to study using optical microscopy,” he said. “And our system is very cheap.”
A typical optical microscope might cost $20,000 to $40,000, whereas an electron microscope can cost several million dollars, he said.
(Source: The NYT)