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Plans Developed for Lensless 'Ultimate Microscope'

Photonics.com
Mar 2007
SHEFFIELD, England, March 14, 2007 -- Scientists have developed an innovative way to take images of atoms in living cells without using a lens. They now plan to use the technique to develop the ultimate x-ray microscope, which could be used to take high-resolution 3-D images of any molecular structure.

University of Sheffield professor John Rodenburg and colleagues in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, in collaboration with Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institut, said that without using a lens, they have greatly enhanced the image capability of existing x-ray microscopes. They have received a £4.3 million (approximately $8.3 million) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant to develop the new x-ray microscope together with similar methods in electron and visible light microscopy.

In traditional microscopes a lens is used to produce a magnified image. This method relies on the waves that make up the radiation, for example light, to interfere with one another to build up the image. However, the tiniest error in the lens can make the waves interfere incorrectly, ruining the image. For this reason, a typical x-ray microscope image is about 100 times more blurred than it should be.

The Sheffield scientists have developed a new technique which uses diffraction patterns collected from different areas of the object to provide information about how the object has scattered the x-rays. They then use these patterns, along with computing programs based on a mathematical algorithm, to give a complete picture of the structure. This means that objects of any size or shape can be imaged at high-quality.

"The technique has revolutionary implications for x-ray imaging of individual atoms in any structure. The key development is that we can now use a computer to calculate the phase of the high-resolution data -- something which could never be seen by the lens alone," Rodenburg said.

"It is even possible to contemplate a solid-state optical microscope, built into a single chip with no optical elements at all. All the weakness, difficulties and costs of lenses would be therefore replaced by a combination of good quality detectors and computers. Our ultimate aim is to be able to take high-resolution 3-D images of any molecular structure, using the ultimate x-ray or electron microscope."

For more information, visit: www.shef.ac.uk


GLOSSARY
diffraction
As a wavefront of light passes by an opaque edge or through an opening, secondary weaker wavefronts are generated, apparently originating at that edge. These secondary wavefronts will interfere with the primary wavefront as well as with each other to form various diffraction patterns.  
electron
A charged elementary particle of an atom; the term is most commonly used in reference to the negatively charged particle called a negatron. Its mass at rest is me = 9.109558 x 10-31 kg, its charge is 1.6021917 x 10-19 C, and its spin quantum number is 1/2. Its positive counterpart is called a positron, and possesses the same characteristics, except for the reversal of the charge.
image
In optics, an image is the reconstruction of light rays from a source or object when light from that source or object is passed through a system of optics and onto an image forming plane. Light rays passing through an optical system tend to either converge (real image) or diverge (virtual image) to a plane (also called the image plane) in which a visual reproduction of the object is formed. This reconstructed pictorial representation of the object is called an image.
lens
A transparent optical component consisting of one or more pieces of optical glass with surfaces so curved (usually spherical) that they serve to converge or diverge the transmitted rays from an object, thus forming a real or virtual image of that object.
microscope
An instrument consisting essentially of a tube 160 mm long, with an objective lens at the distant end and an eyepiece at the near end. The objective forms a real aerial image of the object in the focal plane of the eyepiece where it is observed by the eye. The overall magnifying power is equal to the linear magnification of the objective multiplied by the magnifying power of the eyepiece. The eyepiece can be replaced by a film to photograph the primary image, or a positive or negative relay...
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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