Advances in optics, software and hardware have pushed microscope technologies to new boundaries. 2015 has welcomed in the introduction of expanded resolutions, paper-light foldable microscopes and much more. The following 4 research technologies are changing the world—one sample at a time.
Expansion microscopy is pushing the limits of optical microscopy power. Conventional optical microscopes have a resolving power of 200 nanometers—approximately half the wavelength of light. With expansion microscopy technology, researchers at M.I.T.’s Center for Neurobiological Engineering believe it may be possible to enlarge tissue samples by up to 10 times. A report in Science has already detailed the group’s success at expanding a cultured cell and tissue sample by 5 times while maintaining the composition of the culture.
The new technology is also capable of displaying super resolution animations in 3D. Co-Director of the Center for Neurobiological Engineering, Dr. Edward S. Boyden, hopes to use expansion microscopy to scan the entire nervous system of animals. Another benefit is accessibility. These powerful optical microscopes will likely cost a fraction of other types of microscopes with the same level of power.
Cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EMs) work by beaming electrons into a film sample frozen by liquid nitrogen containing protein. With a resolution of less than 0.5 nanometers, which pales in comparison to other microscopes, cryo-EMs have been slow to advance. With a resolution of less than 0.5 nanometers, it pales in comparison to other microscopes. The technology has been in place for a few years, but cryo-EMs cannot compete against other methods with better resolutions such as crystallography or NMR.
However, researchers recently developed a cryo-EM microscope that trumps all previous microscopes of this type. According to the journal, Science, The U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland reported developing a cryo-EM that has a resolution of 0.22 nanometers or greater.
Improvements to cryo-EMs are an important to identifying breakthroughs in conditions associated with proteins. Key advances in this area could help drug developers advance specific ailments associated with different types of proteins.
As impossible as it might seem, a paper microscope developed by Foldscope, has been developed for education and global health. The paper microscope is initially folded, like oragami, into a 70 x 20 x 2 mm3 2000X magnification machine. The tiny paper microscopes yield an 800 nanometer resolution—not bad for a microscope that costs less than a can of soda.
The transmission electron microscope developed by Hitachi Ltd. emits a 1.2-megavolt electron stream. It is stabilized through a series of cables and circuits specially developed for the microscope. The microscope boasts the world’s highest resolution, standing at 43 picometer—half the radius of most atoms.
The microscope is the size of a small house. It’s lined with acoustic dampening components to reduce infiltration of vibration. The project was initiated in 2010, and was announced in early 2015.