Compiled by EuroPhotonics staff
MANCHESTER, UK – A new microscope has shattered the record
for the smallest object the eye can see, beating the diffraction limit of light
and promising to promote understanding of the causes of many diseases.
Standard optical microscopes can see items clearly at only about
1 μm; electron microscopes can see only the surface of a cell rather than its
entire structure, and there is no tool that can see a live virus.
Until now, that is.
By combining an optical microscope with a transparent microsphere,
dubbed the “microsphere nanoscope,” researchers at the University of
Manchester have been able to see down to 50 nm under normal light. The increased
capacity means that scientists could examine live viruses inside a human cell for
the first time. The findings appeared in the March 1 issue of Nature Communications
The nanoimaging system is based on capturing optical, near-field
virtual images, free from optical diffraction, and amplifying them using a microsphere
– a tiny spherical particle that is further relayed and amplified by a standard
“Not only have we been able to see items of 50 nm, we believe
that is just the start, and we will be able to see far smaller items,” said
Professor Lin Li. “Theoretically, there is no limit on how small an object
we will be able to see.”
Among tiny objects, the research team has also investigated anodized
aluminum oxide nanostructures and the nanoscale patterns on Blu-ray DVDs, both of
which were not previously visible with an optical microscope.