A new technology, presented in the journal Nature Photonics ed partly inspired by the famous James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)will employ segments of mirrors to arrange and collect light on a microscopic scale, so that it can capture images of molecules at a new level of resolution – even in 6D.
As explained by the developers, dr. Oumeng Zhang and prof. Matthew Lew, both members of the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, this new system will be able to capture molecules in their precise position and orientation, each in three dimensions.
But what does the JWST have to do with it? Well, like the famous space telescope, the innovative microscope uses a radially and azimuthally polarized multiview reflector (raMVR) for the gathering as much light as possible. But, instead of using that light to see things in the distance, he uses it to distinguish the different characteristics of tiny fluorescent molecules attached to proteins and cell membranes.
“The setup is somewhat inspired by telescopes. In fact, it has a very similar structure. However, instead of the familiar honeycomb shape of the JWST, we use pyramid-shaped mirrors”explained Dr. Zhang.
Usually, microscopes that are used for such purposes face many challenges in creating biological images. This is because the amount of light emitted by fluorescent molecules is so small that it is extremely sensitive to the smallest aberrationsincluding the typically turbid environment within a cell.
For this reason, currently, for the most precise imaging possible it relies more on computer processingand not on “direct vision”, so that orientation can be resolved after an image has been captured.
In reverse, the new raMVR microscope uses polarization optics (called waveplates) together with its pyramid-shaped mirrors to separate light into eight channels, each of which represents a different part of the molecule’s location and orientation.
“It really is a cutting-edge project in engineering physics. We thought differently than the traditional architecture of a microscope, and now, we think these new 6D images will allow new scientific discoveries in the near future“confidently stated Prof. Lew.
Staying on the subject, about a year ago, a quantum microscope was developed capable of seeing the impossible. We talked about it in a previous article.