Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Optical microscope


Mobile phone microscopes are a natural platform for point-of-care imaging, but current solutions require an externally powered illumination source, thereby adding bulk and cost. We present a mobile phone microscope that uses the internal flash or sunlight as the illumination source, thereby reducing complexity whilst maintaining functionality and performance. The microscope is capable of both brightfield and darkfield imaging modes, enabling microscopic visualisation of samples ranging from plant to mammalian cells. We describe the microscope design principles, assembly process, and demonstrate its imaging capabilities through the visualisation of unlabelled cell nuclei to observing the motility of cattle sperm and zooplankton.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Cell, Optics, Light, Microscope, Mobile phone, Optical microscope


Optical microscopes have for centuries been our window to the microscopic world. The advent of single-molecule optics over the past few decades has ushered in a new era in optical imaging, partly because it has enabled the observation of motion and more recently structure on the nanoscopic scale through the development of super-resolution techniques. The large majority of these studies have relied on the efficient detection of fluorescence as the basis of single-molecule sensitivity. Despite the many advantages of using single emitters as light sources, the intensity and duration of their emission impose fundamental limits on the imaging speed and precision for tracking studies. Here, we discuss the potential of a novel imaging technique based on interferometric scattering (iSCAT) that pushes both the sensitivity and time resolution far beyond what is currently achievable by single-emitter-based approaches. We present recent results that demonstrate single-molecule sensitivity and imaging speeds on the microsecond timescale.

Concepts: Time, Optics, Light, Microscope, Microscopy, Book of Optics, Intensity, Optical microscope


In optical microscopy, fine structural details are resolved by using refraction to magnify images of a specimen. We discovered that, by synthesizing a swellable polymer network within a specimen, it can be physically expanded, resulting in physical magnification. By covalently anchoring specific labels located within the specimen directly to the polymer network, labels spaced closer than the optical diffraction limit can be isotropically separated and optically resolved, a process we call expansion microscopy (ExM). Thus, this process can be used to perform scalable super-resolution microscopy with diffraction-limited microscopes. We demonstrate ExM with apparent ~70 nm lateral resolution in both cultured cells and brain tissue, performing three-color super-resolution imaging of ~10(7) μm(3) of the mouse hippocampus with a conventional confocal microscope.

Concepts: Brain, Diffraction, Optics, Microscope, Microscopy, Lens, Optical microscope, Microscopes


The rapid rise of two-dimensional nanomaterials implies the development of new versatile, high-resolution visualization and placement techniques. For example, a single graphene layer becomes observable on Si/SiO2 substrates by reflected light under optical microscopy because of interference effects when the thickness of silicon oxide is optimized. However, differentiating monolayers from bilayers remains challenging, and advanced techniques, such as Raman mapping, atomic force microscopy (AFM), or scanning electron microscopy (SEM) are more suitable to observe graphene monolayers. The first two techniques are slow, and the third is operated in vacuum; hence, in all cases, real-time experiments including notably chemical modifications are not accessible. The development of optical microscopy techniques that combine the speed, large area, and high contrast of SEM with the topological information of AFM is therefore highly desirable. We introduce a new widefield optical microscopy technique based on the use of previously unknown antireflection and absorbing (ARA) layers that yield ultrahigh contrast reflection imaging of monolayers. The BALM (backside absorbing layer microscopy) technique can achieve the subnanometer-scale vertical resolution, large area, and real-time imaging. Moreover, the inverted optical microscope geometry allows its easy implementation and combination with other techniques. We notably demonstrate the potentiality of BALM by in operando imaging chemical modifications of graphene oxide. The technique can be applied to the deposition, observation, and modification of any nanometer-thick materials.

Concepts: Electron microscope, Light, Microscope, Observation, Microscopy, Scanning electron microscope, Reflection, Optical microscope


Optical microscopy is one of the most widely used diagnostic methods in scientific, industrial, and biomedical applications. However, while useful for detailed examination of a small number (< 10,000) of microscopic entities, conventional optical microscopy is incapable of statistically relevant screening of large populations (> 100,000,000) with high precision due to its low throughput and limited digital memory size. We present an automated flow-through single-particle optical microscope that overcomes this limitation by performing sensitive blur-free image acquisition and nonstop real-time image-recording and classification of microparticles during high-speed flow. This is made possible by integrating ultrafast optical imaging technology, self-focusing microfluidic technology, optoelectronic communication technology, and information technology. To show the system’s utility, we demonstrate high-throughput image-based screening of budding yeast and rare breast cancer cells in blood with an unprecedented throughput of 100,000 particles/s and a record false positive rate of one in a million.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Optics, Type I and type II errors, Yeast, Microscope, Microscopy, Optical microscope


Feynman once asked physicists to build better electron microscopes to be able to watch biology at work. While electron microscopes can now provide atomic resolution, electron beam induced specimen damage precludes high resolution imaging of sensitive materials, such as single proteins or polymers. Here, we use simulations to show that an electron microscope based on a multi-pass measurement protocol enables imaging of single proteins, without averaging structures over multiple images. While we demonstrate the method for particular imaging targets, the approach is broadly applicable and is expected to improve resolution and sensitivity for a range of electron microscopy imaging modalities, including, for example, scanning and spectroscopic techniques. The approach implements a quantum mechanically optimal strategy which under idealized conditions can be considered interaction-free.

Concepts: Electron, Electron microscope, Microscope, Microscopy, Scanning tunneling microscope, Scanning electron microscope, Optical microscope, Low voltage electron microscope


We demonstrate a new nanoimaging platform in which optical excitations generated by a low-energy electron beam in an ultrathin scintillator are used as a noninvasive, near-field optical scanning probe of an underlying sample. We obtain optical images of Al nanostructures with 46 nm resolution and validate the noninvasiveness of this approach by imaging a conjugated polymer film otherwise incompatible with electron microscopy due to electron-induced damage. The high resolution, speed, and noninvasiveness of this “cathodoluminescence-activated” platform also show promise for super-resolution bioimaging.

Concepts: Electron, Electron microscope, Optics, Microscope, Microscopy, Scanning tunneling microscope, Scanning probe microscopy, Optical microscope


Groundbreaking advances in volume electron microscopy and specimen preparation are enabling the 3-dimensional visualisation of specimens with unprecedented detail, and driving a gratifying resurgence of interest in the ultrastructural examination of cellular systems. Serial section techniques, previously the domain of specialists, are becoming increasingly automated with the development of systems such as the automatic tape-collecting ultramicrotome, and serial blockface and focused ion beam scanning electron microscopes. These changes are rapidly broadening the scope of biomedical studies to which volume electron microscopy techniques can be applied beyond the brain. Further innovations in microscope design are also in the pipeline, which have the potential to enhance the speed and quality of data collection. The recent introduction of integrated light and electron microscopy systems will revolutionise correlative light and volume electron microscopy studies, by enabling the sequential collection of data from light and electron imaging modalities without intermediate specimen manipulation. In doing so, the acquisition of comprehensive functional information and direct correlation with ultrastructural details within a 3-dimensional reference space will become routine. The prospects for volume electron microscopy are therefore bright, and the stage is set for a challenging and exciting future.

Concepts: Electron, Electron microscope, Microscope, Dimension, Microscopy, Scanning electron microscope, Optical microscope, Electron microscopy


Nearly eighty years ago, Scherzer showed that rotationally symmetric, charge-free, static electron lenses are limited by an unavoidable, positive spherical aberration. Following a long struggle, a major breakthrough in the spatial resolution of electron microscopes was reached two decades ago by abandoning the first of these conditions, with the successful development of multipole aberration correctors. Here, we use a refractive silicon nitride thin film to tackle the second of Scherzer’s constraints and demonstrate an alternative method for correcting spherical aberration in a scanning transmission electron microscope. We reveal features in Si and Cu samples that cannot be resolved in an uncorrected microscope. Our thin film corrector can be implemented as an immediate low cost upgrade to existing electron microscopes without re-engineering of the electron column or complicated operation protocols and can be extended to the correction of additional aberrations.

Concepts: Electron, Electron microscope, Optics, Microscope, Scanning electron microscope, Lens, Telescope, Optical microscope


There has been an increasing push to derive quantitative measurements using optical microscopes. While several aspects of microscopy have been identified to enhance quantitative imaging, non-uniform angular illumination asymmetry (ANILAS) across the field-of-view is an important factor that has been largely overlooked. Non-uniform ANILAS results in loss of imaging precision and can lead to, for example, less reliability in medical diagnoses. We use ANILAS maps to demonstrate that objective lens design, illumination wavelength and location of the aperture diaphragm are significant factors that contribute to illumination aberrations. To extract the best performance from an optical microscope, the combination of all these factors must be optimized for each objective lens. This requires the capability to optimally align the aperture diaphragm in the axial direction. Such optimization enhances the quantitative imaging accuracy of optical microscopes and can benefit applications in important areas such as biotechnology, optical metrology, and nanotechnology.

Concepts: Optics, Microscope, Microscopy, Lens, Telescope, Photographic lens, Optical microscope, Aperture