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St Andrews curves light to improve imaging

Prof Kishan Dholakia

Prof Kishan Dholakia

The University of St Andrews has found a way to see far more detail thanks to the use of a curved beam of light. The new 3D microscope should enable an improved view of biological cells.

The new form of ‘light sheet imaging’, has been developed by an interdisciplinary team at St Andrews led by physicists Professor Kishan Dholakia and Dr Tom Vettenburg.

The university writes:

A light sheet microscope creates 3D images of cells by seeing how a sample lights up slice-by-slice when moved through a sheet of light. This sheet would ideally be as thin as a razor’s edge to be able to probe the inner workings of all cells, yet gentle as light to avoid cell damage. Unfortunately, the laws of optics show that when the light sheet is squeezed in one place it tends to spread elsewhere; we thus see the inner detail of only a handful of cells at the time near the squeezed region (the beam focus) – the ‘optical’ razorblade is not as thin as we’d like across our whole sample.

The work at St Andrews was led by physicists Professor Kishan Dholakia and Dr Tom Vettenburg.

“There has never been a more important time to improve and enhance our visualisation of the biological world,” said Professor Dholakia. “Light plays an ever more important role in our understanding of how events at the cellular level can alter the course of the development of an organism, or the onset and evolution of disease.”

“Our novel methodology allows the University of St Andrews to emerge as a world leading institute for biomedical imaging, something we could not have envisaged even a few years ago.”

According to the university the results have been achieved this by exploiting a beam of light that moves on a peculiarly curved trajectory. The beam, known as the Airy beam (after the British astronomer Sir George Airy), is shaped in such a way that high resolution can be obtained without it being thin.

Using this method, says the university, the light is used more efficiently to see the inner details of hundreds of cells with clarity creating an image equivalent to that which would be taken from an extended ultra-thin ‘blade’ of light.

Read more about the research »

The work is published in the May issue of Nature Methods.

Tags: Dr Tom Vettenburg, microscope, Professor Kishan Dholakia

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