A photonic chip that allows a conventional microscope to work at nanoscale resolution has been developed by a team of physicists in Germany and Norway. The researchers claim that as well as opening up nanoscopy to many more people, the mass-producible optical chip also offers a much larger field of view than current nanoscopy techniques, which rely on complex microscopes.

Nanoscale ResolutionA multi-layer pair of materials, tungsten carbide and silicon carbide, was used to prepare high-efficiency, high-numerical aperture (NA) multilayer Laue lenses (MLLs). In a series of studies, Dr. Saša Bajt of Deutsches Electronen-Synchroton (DESY) and co-workers used a pair of MLL’s to achieve a 2D focus of 8.4 x 6.8 nm at a photon energy of 16.3 keV. They demonstrated scanning-based imaging of samples with a resolution below 10 nm. The high NA of the lenses also allowed projection holographic imaging with strong phase contrast over a large range of magnifications.

Nanoscopy, which is also known as super-resolution microscopy, allows scientists to see features smaller than the diffraction limit – about half the wavelength of visible light. It can be used to produce images with resolutions as high as 20–30 nm – approximately 10 times better than a normal microscope. Such techniques have important implications for biological and medical research, with the potential to provide new insights into disease and improve medical diagnostics.

“The resolution of the standard optical microscope is basically limited by the diffraction barrier of light, which restricts the resolution to 200–300 nm for visible light,” explains Mark Schüttpelz, a physicist at Bielefeld University in Germany. “But many structures, especially biological structures like compartments of cells, are well below the diffraction limit. Here, super-resolution will open up new insights into cells, visualizing proteins ‘at work’ in the cell in order to understand structures and dynamics of cells.”

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