Tag Archives: microscope

Smartphone microscope.

With a few cheap changes, your smartphone can now detect lead contamination in water

Researchers at the University of Houston want to help you avoid lead intake from drinking water, so they’re working on an inexpensive system that turns your smartphone into a detector for the metal.

Smartphone microscope.

Researchers built a self-contained smartphone microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes and paired it with an inexpensive Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera.
Image and caption credit University of Houston.

Following the Flint debacle — when insufficient water treatment capabilities flooded the city’s pipelines with contaminated water — public attention to the health risks posed by lead have soared sky-high. In a bid to protect people from events like this in the future, the team developed an inexpensive system using a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer that can detect dangerously high levels of lead in tap water.

Pb solved

“Smartphone nano-colorimetry is rapid, low-cost, and has the potential to enable individual citizens to examine (lead) content in drinking water on-demand in virtually any environmental setting,” the researchers wrote.

Lead is quite toxic, even in small concentrations, and especially for young children. EPA guidelines state that levels under 15 parts per billion are safe to drink but, according to Shih, consumer test kits on the market today aren’t sensitive enough to accurately detect lead at that level.

To address this problem, the team equipped an inexpensive smartphone with an inkjet-printed lens and, using the dark-field imaging technique, produced a system that is both portable and easy to operate. But, more to the point, the team’s rig can detect waterborne lead in concentrations as low as 5 parts per billion in tap water, and as low as 1.37 parts per billion in deionized water.

The work draws heavily on a previous open-source dataset that Shih and his students published last year. That paper explained how to convert a smartphone equipped with the elastomer lens into a fluorescence microscope (and has since become the most-downloaded paper in the Biomedical Optics Express journal’s history). The present work also incorporates color analysis into the mix, which the device uses to detect lead nano-particles.

As per the previously-published dataset, the team built a microscope that can operate in both fluorescence and dark-field imaging modes. They then paired it with a (relatively cheap) Lumina 640 smartphone with an 8-megapixel camera.

In order to test their device, the team spiked tap water with various levels of lead — from 1.37 parts per billion to 175 parts per billion. They then added chromate ions, which react with the lead to form lead chromate nanoparticles — the latter being what the microscope actually detects. The analysis process itself is more complicated but suffice to say that by the last step of preparation, the team obtained a solid sediment that contained all the lead from their water sample.

The microscopy imaging capability proved essential, Shih said, because the preparation process resulted in so little sediment that it couldn’t be imaged with an unassisted smartphone camera, making it impossible to detect relatively low levels of lead.

“We wanted to be sure we could do something that would be useful from the standpoint of detecting lead at the EPA standard,” Shih said.

The paper “Smartphone Nanocolorimetry for On-Demand Lead Detection and Quantitation in Drinking Water” has been published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

This is a 3-D model of FlyPi (left) and the assembled FlyPi with single micromanipulator and light-emitting diode-ring module, diffusor, and Petri dish adapter mounted in the bottom (right). Credit: Tom Baden.

3-D printing and Raspberry Pi are turned into impressive lab equipment on the cheap

Doing science is not cheap at all these days. Many scientists argue that they’re underpaid, and this is true in most parts of the world, but lab equipment expenses weigh even more. Modern instruments like electron scanning microscopes or spectrometers cost tens of thousands of dollars and some are priced in excess of $100k. In developing countries, this huge economic entry barrier means science suffers. With this in mind, a team at the Universities of Tübingen and Sussex have sought to slash lab equipment costs by innovating.

This is a 3-D model of FlyPi (left) and the assembled FlyPi with single micromanipulator and light-emitting diode-ring module, diffusor, and Petri dish adapter mounted in the bottom (right). Credit: Tom Baden.

This is a 3-D model of FlyPi (left) and the assembled FlyPi with single micromanipulator and light-emitting diode-ring module, diffusor, and Petri dish adapter mounted in the bottom (right). Credit: Tom Baden.

The researchers presented their concept called ‘FlyPi’ in a recent paper published in PLOS Biology. Essentially, the ‘FlyPi’ is a low-cost imaging and microscope system meant for research, training, and research, particularly in neuroscience.

The design is based on 3-D printed components that form a framework for cheap LEDs for lighting, simple lenses for magnification, a camera for recording, and a Raspberry Pi computer for processing, data storage, and communication with an external device. There are also optical and thermal control circuits based on Arduino, an open-source microcontroller.

When you add everything together, the whole system doesn’t cost more than 100 Euros. What’s more, unlike most cumbersome and expensive lab equipment, the FlyPi can be customized to a lab’s particular needs thanks to the system’s modular approach.

The applications are obviously limited but that doesn’t mean you can’t do proper science with just 100 Euros-worth of lab equipment.

“Many institutions around the world have little money to spend on costly equipment,” said lead researcher Tom Baden from the Universities of Tübingen and Sussex. “We think it is very important that neuroscientific training and research open up to larger numbers of students and junior scientists. So we hope that, with open labware such as our FlyPi, we can offer a starting point.”

We have the Open Source movement to thank for this achievement, which can already boast success in science.

In 2009, for example, Irfan Prijambada, a microbiologist at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, equipped his lab with tissue-culture hoods and microscopes for less than 10% of their commercial price, using designs posted by a life-sciences-community platform called Hackteria. At the University of Toronto, Canada, researchers developed an open-source platform for doing biology and chemistry on a chip, known as DropBot. On the Open-source Lab page on Appropedia, you can find designs and instruction on how to make various lab equipment on your own from syringe pumps to Raman spectrometers to 3-D printed labware. And if you’re interested, we’ve compiled seven Raspberry Pi projects like a home security system or air quality detector you can assemble by yourself based on simple instructions.

Some scientists, of course, will be skeptical of the DIY approach out of concerns these open source system won’t faithfully produce the validated, standardized performance of commercial lab equipment. Indeed, this is a serious concern. The open hardware community, though enthusiastic, can fail when it comes to offering the proper tools and information so the finished piece behaves the same, whether assembled in a garage in San Francisco or at a university in France or India. In time, these issues will be addressed as the community becomes more coherent. Just look at where the open source software movement is today. You’re likely reading this article on an Android device, which is an open source mobile software made at Google, and the software we use at ZME Science to publish daily is WordPress, an open source platform enjoyed by millions of other bloggers.

A two-color electron microscopy image of endosomal uptake of peptide proteins, a first of its kind. Credit: Cell Chemical Biology

Presenting the electron kaleidoscope: the first ever colour electron microscope

A two-color electron microscopy image of endosomal uptake of peptide proteins, a first of its kind. Credit: Cell Chemical Biology

A two-color electron microscopy image of endosomal uptake of peptide proteins, a first of its kind. Credit: Cell Chemical Biology

Electron microscopy is arguably one of the most successful inventions of the past century. As the name implies, this instrument fires beams of electrons onto a sample to create a magnified image of it, typically up to two million times. Since it was invented in the 1930s, this tools has proven invaluable for research whether it’s looking at how viruses’ infect cells or how neuron synapses fire, but there’s one major drawback: the images it produces are in grayscale. Now, using a novel technique researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute demonstrate a new electron microscopy that can image samples in multiple colours.

A touch of colour in an otherwise bleak nano world

You, me, and just about anything with eyes sees things because light particles known as photons bounce off objects and hit the retina. But some things — most of them — are smaller than an individual photon. Once you dive well into the nano world, photons become clumsy and useless for imaging purposes. So, naturally, scientists resorted to image tiny objects with the smallest particle they could easily use: the electron. Think of imaging objects like carving furniture. Naturally, you want your cutting tool to be smaller than the bulk material you want to sculpt.

The working principle of an electron microscope is fairly simple. Firstly, a beam of electrons is fired onto a sample that is prepared beforehand, typically by treating it with lead because it loves electrons so much. Everything takes place inside a vacuum chamber because electrons don’t travel optimally through the air. Instead of an optical lens you’d use in a microscope, an electron microscope (EM) employs coil-shaped electromagnets through which the electron beam travels. Just like a glass lens bends or refracts light to magnify objects sitting behind it, the EM’s coils bend the electron beams in much the same way.

The resulting EM image reveals shapes, textures or contours with incredible resolution — but no colour. This can be a problem when there are multiple features belonging to individual objects. A trained eye can get away with it, of course, and colours can be added later by hand, sort of like photoshop. But scientists’ lives could be made a whole lot easier if there was a way to produce coloured EM images from the beginning.

A snowflake as seen by an EM.

A snowflake as seen by an EM.

That’s where Mark H. Ellisman, PhD, professor in the Department of Neurosciences and director of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, and his team came in. Among the co-authors of the new paper was also Roger Tsien, PhD, professor of pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry. Tsien won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2008 and, sadly, passed away this year on August 24. Now, Tsien’s legacy lives on not only through the green fluorescent proteins he conceived but also through the first ever multicolor EM.

This new technique starts off like any usual EM imaging. The sample, say a cell or protein, is treated with lead then loaded with electrons to create a grayscale image — this is the base layer. Next, the specimen is treated again, this time with rare earth minerals called lanthanides. This class of metals are very picky and only stick to certain molecule types, meaning these are the only things the microscope can see. It’s then only a matter of processing the resulting image, assigning it a colour like green, then stacking the image over the grayscale based layer. You can add multiple stacks this way and come up with variously coloured images.

“The ability to discern multiple specific molecules simultaneously adds a new dimension. It reveals details, actions and processes that aren’t necessarily visible—or even suspected—in a more monochromatic view,” Ellisman said.

“A transmission electron microscope can distinguish each of these metals by electron energy-loss to give elemental maps of each that can be overlaid in color on the familiar monochrome electron micrograph,” said first author and project scientist Stephen R. Adams.  “Each color highlights a different component of the cellular ultrastructure.”

Right now, the researchers were only able to stack two or three colours atop the base layer, as reported in the journal Cell Chemical Biology. The challenge lies in treating samples with earth metals in sequence without contaminating them. Nevertheless, today was a very good for science!

“This new method gives a more complete and easily detectable readout of the cellular components as colors,” said Adams. “In theory, we should be able to add many more colors if we can develop more ways of precipitating additional lanthanides. The method is quite simple to do, uses easily made chemicals and requires detectors that are already present on many transmission electron microscopes so it is potentially readily transferable to other laboratories. Further research is needed to improve the chemistry and sensitivity of the method, but this work will hopefully inspire other groups to devise similar methods in this field.”

Credit: nGauge

The smallest, most affordable atomic force microscope could be a game changer

Credit: nGauge

Credit: nGauge

Since the invention of the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) in 1986, science has become increasingly reliant on this imaging instruments that allow spatial and time resolution like nothing that came before. Thousands of scientific papers are published each year in which AFMs are used to characterize materials, drugs and more. Thanks to AFM, researchers are now closing in on the tiny particles that characterize misfolding diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases, diabetes and tuberculosis. Nobel prizes have been won on the back of these instruments.

It would take a whole book to praise the achievements and progress enabled by these microscopes. But there’s always room for better, smarter, faster; and one company called Integrated Circuit Scanning Probe Microscopes (ICSPI Corp) says it can make an AFM that’s small, easy to use, and costs about 10x less than many high-end AFMs.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”How an AFM works” footer=””]

AFM components. Credit: wisc.edu

AFM components. Credit: wisc.edu

AFM works by bringing an atomically sharp tip close to a surface. There is an attractive force between the tip and the surface and this force is kept the same throughout the experiment. As the probe tip scans back and forth over the surface, the tip will rise and fall with the different features on the surface. Since all this is going on at a very small scale, we can’t watch the tip directly. A laser is pointed at the tip and is reflected to a sensor. As the tip goes up and down the laser hits different parts of the sensor. With the information the sensor collects, an image of the surface can be recreated.

 Atomic resolution image of graphene, proving its uniform honey comb structure. Credit: vt.edu

Atomic resolution image of graphene, proving its uniform honey comb structure. Credit: vt.edu


This drastic scale down, which has been in the works for the last decade, was made possible thanks to a 1x1mm silicon chip called the nGauge AFM chip. On this tiny chip, the researchers were able to stack a 3-axis MEMS scanner, a sharp tip, and a sensor to measure tip-sample interactions — all in mind bogglingly small volume.

The world's first single-chip AFM is a research grade instrument that's shrunk down by a factor of a million to fit onto a microchip. Credit: nGauge

The world’s first single-chip AFM
is a research grade instrument that’s shrunk down by a factor of a million to fit onto a microchip. Credit: nGauge

“We succeeded in integrating all of the scanners, sensors, and the tip (essentially the entire AFM) onto a single 1x1mm chip. This eliminates the need for the bulky and expensive piezoelectric scanner stages and laser sensing systems used in conventional AFMs. The AFM chips are fabricated using CMOS technology, the same advanced technology that gives us processors, RAM, and virtually all microelectronics these days. CMOS manufacturing is vastly scalable and allows batch fabrication which drives down costs. An additional processing step is performed on the CMOS chips to “release” the micro-scale mechanical structures. These microstructures, called MEMS, are known to have extremely high resolution and sensitivity, making them perfectly suited for Atomic Force Microscopy,” Duncan Strathearn, one of the nGauge co-founders, told ZME Science.

A traditional AFM machine is very bulky, being around the size of a desk, and costs $100,000 onwards. ICSPI Corp, which is an Univesity of Waterloo spinoff, heavily innovated and managed to create a microscope that costs 10 times less, with little compromise in quality compared to high-end AFMs. Moreover, the technology works better in some applications which require the imaging of nanoscale objects smaller than the wavelengths of light.

Credit: nGauge

Small microscope for imaging very small things. Credit: nGauge

“While single-chip AFMs cannot currently achieve the sub-angstrom resolutions of today’s best AFMs,their performance is on par with mid-range systems. In fact they are actually superior to traditional AFMs in many ways. Their small size leads to improved vibration immunity, lower drift, and higher scan speeds. The compact form-factor can lead to new applications by easily enabling integration into standard equipment like probe stations, electron microscopes, or assembly lines. For the first time it’s also possible to place the AFM on the sample instead of the other way around. The complete integration also makes it straightforward to operate as there are no laser to align, and the tips are easy to exchange since the whole AFM chip is disposable. The fact that the chip is disposable means that it’s simple to stay up to date with the latest advances, as improved AFM chip designs will be released periodically,” Strathearn said.

High school students learning how to use the nGauge microscope. Credit: nGauge

High school students learning how to use the nGauge microscope. Credit: nGauge

Strathearn and colleagues recently brought their nGauge microscope to a high school class, with great results. Most of these kids had never heard about an AFM, let alone use one. With such a substantial reduction in price, AFM imaging could be democratized and become widely available across classrooms — just as traditional optical telescopes are ubiquitous today. Looking at a magnified onion cell in a biology class can be a transformative experience, but imagine using an AFM to image DNA — all in high school. Then, there are the countless university classrooms or startups whose work might now be brought to the next level thanks to this innovation.

“AFMs are very versatile instruments used for a variety of applications in research and industry. Up until now, the cost and complexity of these instruments have made them inaccessible to many potential users. The nGauge AFM’s unprecedented low cost and ease of use will enable access to nanoscale imaging for applications including fundamental research into cancer, quality control of electroplated or polished surfaces, and in-situ measurements in assembly lines, to name just a few. This technology will have a transformative impact on nanoscale science and metrology by opening up the fields to a wide range of new users while enhancing the capabilities of experienced AFM users,” Strathearn added.

The first pre-orders for the nGauge microscope will be available starting July 12.

The improved AFM developed at MIT. (c) MIT

New Atomic Force Microscope is x2,000 faster, images chemical reactions almost real time

MIT researchers made a huge upgrade to an instrument that’s indispensable in research today: the atomic force microscope (AFM).

The improved AFM developed at MIT. (c) MIT

The improved AFM developed at MIT. (c) MIT

The AFM is one of the most versatile and powerful microscopy technology for studying samples at nanoscale or million times smaller than the width of a human hair. Despite it can zoom in and a capture even the tinniest and subtlest details of a surface, its main limitation is that it takes too long to scan. As such, it can only be used for static shots. Dynamic events, like chemical reactions, can’t be imaged with AFM. I mean, they can, but just like when you use a DSLR on high exposure to take a picture of a moving car, it will all be a mess.

That’s set to change, as an upgraded version can scan samples 2,000 times faster — enough to image chemical reactions close to real time at 8 to 10 frames per second (real time is considered 30fps). The new instrument is based on the work of Iman Soltani Bozchalooi, now a postdoc at MIT’s Mechanical Engineering department, while still in his PhD days.

A classical AFM works by measuring force between a probe (a sort of needle) and the sample. The probe skims past the probe slowly tracing its topography nanometer by nanometer, like a blind person might read Braille by using his fingers to feel embossed patterns and surfaces. To scan the sample, the AFM moves it across a platform laterally and vertically beneath the probe. The platform or scanner as it’s called has to move slowly, line by line, to image the whole surface of the sample.

“If the sample is static, it’s ok to take eight to 10 minutes to get a picture,” says Kamal Youcef-Toumi, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “But if it’s something that’s changing, then imagine if you start scanning from the top very slowly. By the time you get to the bottom, the sample has changed, and so the information in the image is not correct, since it has been stretched over time.”

The new upgrade makes use of smaller platforms that image samples over a smaller area, but makes up in speed. The main innovation centers on a multiactuated scanner and its control: a sample platform incorporates a smaller, speedier scanner as well as a larger, slower scanner for every direction, which work together as one system to scan a wide 3D region at high speed. Of course, such attempts were made before but scientists couldn’t sync multiple scanners working together, so a single platform AFM that slowly, but steadily works has remained the norm for years.

chemical reaction AFM

The MIT researchers solved this challenge by developing control algorithms that take into account the effect of one scanner on the other.

“Our controller can move the little scanner in a way that it doesn’t excite the big scanner, because we know what sort of motion triggers this scanner, and vice versa,” Bozchalooi says. “In the end, they’re working in synchrony, so from the perspective of the scientist, this scanner looks like a single, high-speed, large-range scanner that does not add any complexity to the operation of the instrument.”

MIT researchers demonstrated the new AFM by scanning a  70- by-70-micron sample of calcite as it was first immersed in deionized water and later exposed to sulfuric acid. Scientists could see the acid eating away at the calcite, expanding existing nanometer-sized pits in the material that quickly merged and led to a layer-by-layer removal of calcite along the material’s crystal pattern, over a period of several seconds. You couldn’t had possibly see this kind of chemical interaction with a simple AFM.

“People can see, for example, condensation, nucleation, dissolution, or deposition of material, and how these happen in real-time — things that people have never seen before,” Youcef-Toumi says. “This is fantastic to see these details emerging. And it will open great opportunities to explore all of this world that is at the nanoscale.”

The device could help researchers visualize chemical reactions and trigger breakthroughs in fields like battery research, medicine and material science. MIT is thinking about speeding up the AFM even further. “We want to go to real video, which is at least 30 frames per second, Youcef-Toumi says.


This 3D printed system can turn your iPhone in a 1,000x microscope


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, also referred to as the “father of microbiology”, was the first scientist to produce a truly functioning microscope, improving on earlier primitive designs. His efforts allowed him to observe for the first time a single celled organism, almost 300 years ago. Microscopes have gone a long way since, of course, but one thing for sure: after all this time, microscopes are still bulky and extremely difficult to use in the field. Physicists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have set to change this. Using 3D printed materials and a simple glass bead, they’ve created a magnifying system that works with your smartphone’s or tablet’s built-in camera to magnify matter 100x, 350x or 1,000x. The whole system costs only 1$ to manufacture.

“We believe it can fill a need for professional first responders, and also for teachers and students in the classroom, health workers and anyone who just wants an inexpensive microscope readily available,” said Rebecca Erikson, an applied physicist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.


Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has tried to make a microscope for smartphones. This solution, however is elegant, cheap and available to anyone to make. You don’t have to buy it – just download the design which is up for free on the web and print the system at home or at a friend who owns a 3D printer. So, for less than one dollar worth of materials, you can print your very own microscope you can the use to study things like parasites in blood and water-contaminating microorganisms like protozoa (at 350x) or objects as small as tiny pathogens (at 1000x).

While citizen scientists can learn a lot by using the magnifying system, the PNNL scientists designed it for professionals working in the field in mind to enhance response time. A technician or specialist could take a quick snapshot of a sample, send it to the lab for expertise via email and get a response back while still being at the scene.


“An inexpensive, yet powerful microscope in the field could be used to quickly determine whether the material is a threat or a hoax,” Erikson said. “Combine the microscope with the picture sharing capability of a smartphone and now practically anyone can evaluate a sample at the source and have a trained microbiologist located in a lab elsewhere interpret the results within minutes.”

cannabis under the microscope

Cannabis under the microscope: up close and personal

cannabis under the microscope

Scientists, in the lab at least, see marijuana differently from growers or users. Like other plants, once you dive into the microworld cannabis looks immensely different from the buds you see online. These amazing pictures which size up the planet’s crystals, trichomes or leafs were taken by Ford McCann and compiled in a book called  Cannabis Under The Microscope: A Visual Exploration of Medicinal Sativa and C. Indica. Here are just a couple of the 170 shots you can view in the book. These were taken with both optical and electron scanning microscopes.

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

Cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis up close and personal

cannabis microscope

cannabis microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis under the microscope

cannabis microscope

cannabis under the microscope


A holographic microscope used to analyze tissue samples. Credit: UCLA Nano- and Bio-Photonics Lab

Holographic microscopes might be the cost-effective alternative of the future

Microscopes have gone a long since  Zacharias Jansen first invented them in the 1590s. Besides optical telescopes, we now have digital microscopes, atomic force microscopes or, my favorite, electron microscopes. Now, it may be the right time to add a new class to the list: holographic microscopes. While these have been investigated for some time, it’s only recently that we’re seeing actually working prototypes that can be used in the field. The most recent one was reported by a team of engineers from the University of California, Los Angeles which was used to examine  breast-tissue samples for abnormalities. Because these telescopes don’t use lenses, they could be made for a lot less money, all without compromising quality.

A new microscope

A holographic microscope used to analyze tissue samples. Credit: UCLA Nano- and Bio-Photonics Lab

A holographic microscope used to analyze tissue samples. Credit: UCLA Nano- and Bio-Photonics Lab

The digital holographic microscopes that were developed before were great for a proof of concept, but lacked the imaging quality necessary in medicine for diagnosing diseases. The model developed at UCLS, however, has proven to be remarkably reliable. When a trained pathologist was asked to identify anomalies in breast-tissues, she was able to get 74 diagnoses correct out of a possible of 75. When a traditional microscope was used she was right 75 out of 75.

The prototype works by first beaming a partially coherent light through the sample that’s to be examined. The light then projects a holographic image of the sample onto an image-sensing sensor, positioned below the sample. Data collected by the chip are sent to a computer where algorithms reconstruct a high-resolution image of the sample, as reported in the journal Science.

Operating principle and main components of the UCLA holographic microscope. Credit: UCLA

Operating principle and main components of the UCLA holographic microscope. Credit: UCLA

Because they’re not limited by the physics of lenses, holographic microscopes have the additional advantage of displaying a wider field of view. Also, there’s no need for fiddling with knobs to focus, since all the imaging tweaking is made by a computer. Most importantly, holographic microscopes might become popular because of their low cost. The light sensor, for instance, is similar to those found in smartphones. The cost itself for this particular product is unknown, but other groups reported holographic microscopes could be made for less than $1,000.

via PopSci



Foldscope – the origami microscope that aims to carry science in every pocket

The Foldscope is one of those innovative instruments that could potentially turn science communication and education en mass upside down. Developed by researchers from  PrakashLab at Stanford University, the Foldscope is essentially a single flat sheet of paper, equipped with a lens, battery and LED, which can be folded akin to an origami to form a super strong microscope for under 1$ and 10 minutes.

If it sounds like a kid’s toy, you’re not that far from the truth. It’s made to be easy to assemble, wear and use by just about any kid. Considering it can provide up to roughly 2,100x magnification, providing a resolution of about 0.7 microns (nearly all cells are only a few microns in diameter), the Foldscope looks like a nifty tool for grownups too.


Photo: Stanford

Operating the Foldscope is very easy to do. You first insert the sample in a microscope slide, then put the slide inside the microscope itself. Next, turn on the device’s LED light and hold the Foldscope with both hands, placing your eye near the device’s spherical microlens. Moving and pushing your thumbs across the Foldscope pans and focus the view.

Being extremely durable and lightweight (its creators claim it can withstand a three story fall), the team involved says the Foldscope might be ideal for field work where the terrain is harsh or there’s no equipment to be at hand.

“We have marine biologists interested in looking at larvae in the ocean, microfossil hunters making new discoveries, epidemiologists counting schistosomiasis infections in snails in the field, bee researchers trying to identify pathogens on bees, avian-disease experts looking at malaria in birds—all kinds of things,” says coauthor Manu Prakash at Stanford University. “This is what is exciting—we don’t tell people what to do. Just like a computer, it’s a tool you use for your own goals.”

The origami microscope shines most in its potential to deliver science to the people. In fact, the lab behind Foldscope is currently running a beta release involving more than 10,000 volunteers. At the end of the beta study, a manual made from material contributed by the volunteers will help set the first stones for Foldscope users.

“Imagine every child walking around the park, exploring the microcosmos in ways they have never experienced before,” Prakash says. “I am fascinated with the idea of what happens to the world when every single kid carries a microscope in his or her pocket. That is our vision, and we are trying to enable that.”

The paper microscope was detailed in the journal PLOS ONE.

smallest book in the world

The smallest book in the world measures less than a millimeter

A 22-page micro-print of Shiki no Kusabana (flowers of seasons) is officially the smallest book in the world, measuring  0.75 millimetres (0.03 inches) or just about impossible to read with the naked eye. The book was printed by Toppan Printing in Japan, who have been making micro books since 1964, using its ultrafine printing technology, the same method used to avoid forgery of paper currency.

Previously, the record holder for smallest book belong to a 1996 micro-edition of Chekhov’s short story, “Chameleon.” The flowers of seasons book is currently on display at Toppan’s Printing Museum in Tokyo, and is on sale, together with a magnifying glass and a larger copy, for 29,400 yen (£205).

The team's small prototype neutron microscope is shown set up for initial testing at MIT's Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. The microscope mirrors are inside the small metal box at top right.

MIT readies neutron microscope – new kind of imaging

A cylindrical mirror of the type the MIT and NASA researchers have developed for a novel type of neutron microscope is shown on a test stage in the lab, with light reflected through it to test the precision polishing of its shape.  (c) NASA

A cylindrical mirror of the type the MIT and NASA researchers have developed for a novel type of neutron microscope is shown on a test stage in the lab, with light reflected through it to test the precision polishing of its shape. (c) NASA

A joint project between scientists at NASA and MIT is focusing on creating a new kind of microscope that uses neutrons instead of beams of light or electrons to create high-resolution images. Since the subatomic particles are electrically neutral, such a microscope would allow scientists to peer through places otherwise inaccessible today, like inside metals even if these are in motion.  Also, neutron instruments are also uniquely sensitive to magnetic properties and to lighter elements that are important in biological materials.

The concept of a neutron microscope isn’t entirely new, however other neutron instruments developed so far can be considered primitive to say the least.  These are crude imaging systems that simply let light through a tiny opening, resulting in low-resolution images.

The team of researchers at MIT want to build something that rivals in quality current atomic force microscopes or electron microscopes. With this in mind, MIT postdoc Dazhi Liu, research scientist Boris Khaykovich, professor David Moncton, and four others are currently exploring an innovative idea that’s been on the table for more than 60 years.

“For neutrons, there have been no high-quality focusing devices,” Moncton says. “Essentially all of the neutron instruments developed over a half-century are effectively pinhole cameras.” But with this new advance, he says, “We are turning the field of neutron imaging from the era of pinhole cameras to an era of genuine optics.”

“The new mirror device acts like the image-forming lens of an optical microscope,” Liu adds.

The team's small prototype neutron microscope is shown set up for initial testing at MIT's Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. The microscope mirrors are inside the small metal box at top right.

The team’s small prototype neutron microscope is shown set up for initial testing at MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. The microscope mirrors are inside the small metal box at top right.

The main challenge in developing a neutron optical device is that the particles minimally interact with matter, which makes it practically impossible to focus a beam of neutrons in the same way you would light or electrons. A basic means of manipulating neutron beams was expressed in the mid 1950s, even though the original idea was used for X-rays, involving concentric mirrors. Neutron beams interact weakly, much like X-rays, and can be focused by a similar optical system.

A neutron microscope

The instrument currently in development by the researchers uses several reflective cylinders nested one inside the other, so as to increase the surface area available for reflection. The resulting device could improve the performance of existing neutron imaging systems by a factor of about 50, the researchers say — allowing for much sharper images, much smaller instruments, or both.

So far, the team have digitized their concept, and have even created a small-version of the instrument as a proof of concept and demonstrated its performance using a neutron beam facility at MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. Such a new instrument could be used to observe and characterize many kinds of materials and biological samples; other nonimaging methods that exploit the scattering of neutrons might benefit as well. Because the neutron beams are relatively low-energy, they are “a much more sensitive scattering probe,” Moncton says, for phenomena such as “how atoms or magnetic moments move in a material.”


Roger Pynn, a materials scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was not involved in this research, says, “I expect it to lead to a number of breakthroughs in neutron imaging. … It offers the potential for some really new applications of neutron scattering — something that we haven’t seen for quite a while.”

The concept was outlined in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

This shows two microstructures made with the new material, containing the highest concentration of RDGE. Left: Pre-charring. These pyramid and bunny models did not respond to the preferred method of 3-D shaping, so they were created using an alternative process. Right: Post-charring. Notice that the pyramid and bunny shrink significantly less than those made from the material with a lower concentration of RDGE. Credit: Optical Materials Express

World’s tiniest sculpted bunny is the size of a bacteria

This shows two microstructures made with the new material, containing the highest concentration of RDGE. Left: Pre-charring. These pyramid and bunny models did not respond to the preferred method of 3-D shaping, so they were created using an alternative process. Right: Post-charring. Notice that the pyramid and bunny shrink significantly less than those made from the material with a lower concentration of RDGE. Credit: Optical Materials Express

This shows two microstructures made with the new material, containing the highest concentration of RDGE. Left: Pre-charring. These pyramid and bunny models did not respond to the preferred method of 3-D shaping, so they were created using an alternative process. Right: Post-charring. Notice that the pyramid and bunny shrink significantly less than those made from the material with a lower concentration of RDGE. Credit: Optical Materials Express

Researchers in Japan made good use of a new, state-of-the-art micro sculpting technique to create objects so small that they are the size of a single bacteria. One of these objects is the smallest bunny in the world, only a few micrometers wide, but the researchers have also demonstrated other shapes as well. Their work has applications in new technology that may someday be used to print cells and micro-electrodes for medical purposes, as well as other electronic devices where tiny parts of complex shape are required.

The technique was used on a novel type of resin that was molded into complex, highly conductive 3-D structures. Then the structures were carbonized (or charred), which increases the conductivity of the resin, essential for biomedical purposes.

“One of the most promising applications is 3-D microelectrodes that could interface with the brain,” says Yuya Daicho, graduate student at Yokohama National University and lead author of the paper.

These brain interfaces, rows of needle-shaped electrodes pointing in the same direction like teeth on combs, can send or receive electrical signals from neurons and can be used for deep brain stimulation and other therapeutic interventions to treat disorders such as epilepsy, depression, and Parkinson’s disease

Scientists used UV light and lasers to get the desired shapes.”When we got the carbon bunny structure, we were very surprised,” says Shoji Maruo, the project’s advisor. “Even with a very simple experimental structure, we could get this complicated 3D carbon microstructure.

The technique was described in the journal Optical Medical Express. [article source]




Oval shaped gold particles are 5nm diameter with lines, layers of atoms, across them.

Electron microscope based on revolutionary technique set to provide highest resolution images ever

Since they were first introduced more than 70 years ago, electron microscopes have aided researchers from a diverse array of fields of science reach some of the world’s greatest scientific breakthroughs – most often they’ve been considered indispensable. They’ve well reached their limits, however, and University of Sheffield researchers sought to find an alternate route for sub-atomic imaging.

Oval shaped gold particles are 5nm diameter with lines, layers of atoms, across them.

Oval shaped gold particles are 5nm diameter with lines, layers of atoms, across them. (c) University of Sheffield

After three years of hard work, the scientists reached a breakthrough, after they developed a new method, called electron ptychography, which they claim will lead to highest resolution images in the world. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

The scientists scrapped the electrostatic and electromagnetic lenses used by the conventional electron microscope, and instead chose to reconstruct scattered electron-waves after passing through the sample using computers. The new technique allowed for a five-fold increase in resolution over the electron lens. The researchers are confident enough to claim their breakthrough will transform sub-atomic scale transmission imaging.

Project leader Professor John Rodenburg, of the University of Sheffield´s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, explains how the electron ptychography microscope works.

“We measure diffraction patterns rather than images. What we record is equivalent to the strength of the electron, X-ray or light waves which have been scattered by the object – this is called their intensity. However, to make an image, we need to know when the peaks and troughs of the waves arrive at the detector – this is called their phase.

“The key breakthrough has been to develop a way to calculate the phase of the waves from their intensity alone. Once we have this, we can work out backwards what the waves were scattered from: that is, we can form an aberration-free image of the object, which is much better than can be achieved with a normal lens.

“A typical electron or X-ray microscope image is about one hundred times more blurred than the theoretical limit defined by the wavelength. In this project, the eventual aim is to get the best-ever pictures of individual atoms in any structure seen within a three-dimensional object.”

Besides the obvious high resolution capabilities, when coupled with visible light the new microscope allows scientists to image living cells very clearly without the need to stain them, a process which usually kills the cells. Also, the living organisms can be imaged directly through their culture containers, like petri dishes or flasks, and thus offer the opportunity to study them as they develop without disturbing.

source – Sheffield University

Paper + Microscope = amazing art


Handmade paper from Gampi and Daffodils, in 3D vision

Paper is just paper, right ? Nothing fancy, nothing special, just plain old paper that we see and probably use every single day. Well, for Charles Kazilek at ASU, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth; incredible colours, from orange and purple to vibrant green, amazing textures, all of these were obtained from plain pieces of paper.

Paper made by wasps; they've been doing this for more than 50 million years


There are many hidden surprises in these amazing pictures, which contain dazzling patterns. Charles Kazilek uses a laser scanning confocal microscope to examine and photograph the paper. The lasers highlights any fluorescence that biological material has.

Japanese handmade paper

Charles explains the paper project:

“My colleague and collaborator on the Paper Project, Gene Valentine, came to me with a question about paper made from silk rather than plant material. You likely know that almost all paper is made from plant material (cellulose). What you might not know is that a large part of paper strength is the hydrogen bonding that occurs from fiber-to-fiber. More on this is found in the “Cookbook for Papermaking at Home and in the Classroom”.

Paper made from silk tissues

He adds:”Gene had been making paper from silk, which is protein-based and not cellulose-based,” continued Charles. “He wanted to know if silk paper was working the same way as plant material paper at the microscopic level. Papermakers are pretty strict about what they call paper. So the question was if paper made from silk was the same as that of plant made paper?”

Handmade paper from eucalyptus

According to Dard Hunter, one of the most knowledgeable people on paper:

“To be classed as true paper the thin sheets must be made from fibre that has been macerated until each individual filament is a separate unit; the fibres intermixed with water, and by the use of a sieve-like screen, the fibres lifted from the water in the form of a thin stratum, the water draining through the small openings of the screen, leaving a sheet of matted fibre upon the screen’s surface. This thin layer of intertwined fibre is paper.”

Asked what should be learned from the paper project, Charles explains:

“The most important thing is to realize that this material that is so ubiquitous that it is almost invisible from our daily lives is really important and at the microscopic level amazingly beautiful. The images we show are roughly the size of a period at the end of a sentence. If you take a standard piece of paper you are likely to find a hundred or more beautiful pieces of art in each sheet. If you think about how much paper you come into contact with each day, there are literally thousands of tiny pieces of art passing through our hands.” Truly inspiring !

“The other important part of the Paper Project is to realize that this material is arguably one of the first great inventions of humans,” Charles went on to say. “It has been keeping our history and secrets safe for thousands of years. Today what media can you say will be as good at archiving our history and our thoughts? There is nothing out there.”

“Finally, there is a lot that can be learned with the Paper Project. We did not set out be an educational tool, but you can see from the website there are sections on human vision (how we see 3D), chemistry (how paper is held together), plant anatomy, microscopy, and history (from the history of paper timeline).”

The paper project site has some other incredible pictures, and you can also check them out in 3D – astonishing !


Via Paper Project

Researchers invent 3D lens for microscopes

Engineers from Ohio’s State University have published a paper detailing the development of an innovative, tiny 3D  lens that enables microscopic objects to be seen from nine different angles at once. The concept itself is not a novelty, but in its current usage other 3D microscopes use several lenses or cameras to move around a microscopic object and capture it in 3D – the Ohio produced lens is the first single, stationary optical device that creates 3D imaging by itself.

The research was headed by Allen Yi, associate professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State, and postdoctoral researcher Lei Li who described the lens in a recent issue of the Journal of the Optical Society of America A. The high-tech 3D lens was manufactured fairly simply, using a commercially available milling tool with a diamond blade to cut the shape from a piece of the common transparent plastic  polymethyl methacrylate, also known as acrylic glass. Researchers say that the same lens could be manufactured less expensively through traditional molding techniques.

“Ultimately, we hope to help manufacturers reduce the number and sizes of equipment they need to miniaturize products,” Dr. Yi added.

The size of a fingernail, the lens resembles a gem with a flat top surrounded by eight facets, but while gems may be symmetric, this isn’t the case with the lens, whose facets features sizes and angles that vary in minute ways that are hard to see with the naked eye.

“No matter which direction you look at this lens, you see a different shape,” Yi explained. Such a lens is called a freeform lens, a type of freeform optics, technology available for over a decade now. Yi wrote an indispensible computer program that combines all these facets and combines them ultimately providing a full 3D image.

“Using our lens is basically like putting several microscopes into one microscope,” says postdoctoral researcher Lei Li. “For us, the most attractive part of this project is we will be able to see the real shape of micro-samples instead of just a two-dimensional projection.”

The design is so simply and easy to implement that it can be equipped on existing microscopes. It can also simplify the design of future machine vision equipment, since multiple lenses or moving cameras would no longer be necessary.

Other devices could use the tiny lens, and he and Li have since produced a grid-shaped array of lenses made to fit an optical sensor. Another dome-shaped lens is actually made of more than 1,000 tiny lenses, similar in appearance to an insect’s eye.

The world’s most advanced microscope


It’s the equivalent of taking the Hubble telescope (before it was damaged) and directing it towards atoms and molecules instead of stars and galaxies, according to Gianluigi Botton, director of the new Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at McMaster, where the world’s most advanced and powerful microscope works.

It’s called Titan 80-300 Cubed and it was installed in the summer, and since then it passed several tests and challenges, quickly passing each and everyone of them, gaining more and more attention from the media and scientists.

“We are certainly the first university in the world with a microscope of such a high calibre,” says Botton. “With this microscope we can now easily identify atoms, measure their chemical state and even probe the electrons that bind them together.”

“The addition of the Titan 80-300 Cubed to the Centre’s suite of microscopy instruments that include a Titan cryo-in situ solidifies Ontario’s and Canada’s lead in nanotechnology, and places us among the world’s most advanced materials research institutions,” says Mo Elbestawi McMaster’s vice-president, Research and International Affairs.

A few days ago, a group of elite international scientists were invited to test it, and they were absolutely amazed by what it can do.

“They were astounded by its capability, and by the fact that there is such support in this country for a venture of this magnitude,” said John Capone, Dean of Science. “We should be very proud that McMaster has taken the initiative to secure this facility. There are many applications for it in life sciences. This particular instrument will enable many new discoveries in the areas of fundamental biological and physical sciences that will help us to better understand the nature of diseases and the development of new cures.”

Built in Holland, this wonder of technology will be used to produce more efficient lighting, better solar cells, drug delivery materials and other cures, making it worth the $15 million it cost.