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New Rule: Pushing Allowed

BioPhotonics
Jan 2011
Karen A. Newman

If you know the tricorder only as an app for your Android phone, here’s a brief description, based on my own observations: The Star Trek tricorder was a multipurpose handheld device used for scanning alien landscapes for signs of life and analyzing scanned data, among other things. Medical tricorders were used by sick bay personnel to noninvasively scan patients to determine what ailed them.

The tricorder was (will be?) a pretty amazing tool for the 23rd century but, even in this century, there’s no shortage of astounding discoveries to keep scientists, engineers and physicians from pushing the limits of what’s possible and what’s real.

“Although it’s become almost a cliché to mention the Star Trek tricorder as an example of science fiction edging closer to science fact, the reality is that what once seemed fantastical is now firmly in the realm of possibility,” said Rob Morris, director of marketing at Ocean Optics Inc. in a Q&A in this issue about advances in spectroscopy.

Shoving’s OK, too

Morris referenced the tricorder when asked by BioPhotonics managing editor Laura Marshall what he sees as the next big thing in spectroscopy for the life sciences. In Q&A: Trends in Life Sciences Spectroscopy, beginning on p. 36, he suggests that more recent advances may be elbowing their way to the front of the line and could change the face of spectroscopy.

In the same article, Dr. Richard A. Larsen, spectroscopy product manager at Jasco Inc. in Easton, Md., said he sees the technology being used to attack limits elsewhere. “R&D and research labs are continually using established spectroscopy instrumentation to push the boundaries of current capabilities for molecular research.”

Expect some falling


With all the pushing and shoving, it’s no wonder boundaries are falling everywhere we look. This issue of BioPhotonics is devoted to advances not just in spectroscopy but in lasers and optics used in the life sciences, too. Three more articles look at limits and at progress from different perspectives.

“The success and growth of nonlinear imaging techniques have been enabled by turnkey lasers that offer users maximum flexibility,” according to David Armstrong of Coherent Inc., in the article “Ultrafast Lasers for Microscopy: Flexibility Plus State-of-the-Art Performance,” beginning on p. 28. “But, as researchers refine these techniques, continued progress will require lasers that push the limits of performance, without sacrificing reliability or ease of use,” Armstrong added. In this case, more advanced techniques are pushing the demand for more responsive technology.

And, sometimes, technologies get ahead of manufacturing capabilities. In “Polymer Optics for Thermally Stable Imaging,” by Valentina Doushkina of Qioptiq Polymer Inc., beginning on p. 32, the answer may just require a push from another direction. “Recent advances in the fields of optometry, medicine, biomedicine, neurology and so on for surgical and diagnostic applications have put optics manufacturers into situations where they have reached their manufacturing limits or have gone beyond the range of their current capabilities,” Doushkina said.

Microscopy expert Barbara Foster of The Microscopy & Imaging Place offers a look at the latest pushes in the imaging of the extrasmall in “Superresolution: Reality or a ‘STORM’ in a Teacup?” The article, which begins on p. 22, brings us the most exciting news from the recent Society for Neuroscience conference.

Delivering advances in photonics applications for the life sciences may be a contact sport, but would we really want it any other way? One day we’ll be able to use a tricorder to check for broken bones. It’s in the stars.


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