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NPL shows off its super-resolution imaging capabilities

18 February 2013

The best achievable resolution of an optical imaging system due to diffraction is around 250 nanometres, which is insufficient to examine molecules and structures within cells.

Image courtesy of the National Physical Laboratory
Image courtesy of the National Physical Laboratory

The image on the left shows how a cluster of 170 nanometre-sized beads looks under a standard diffraction-limited optical microscope. The image on the right demonstrates the capability of the National Physical Laboratory's (NPL's) super-resolution microscope that uses structured illumination to bypass the diffraction limit and visualise the individual beads.

Biotechnologists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) specialise in the measurement of biomolecules in solution, at interfaces and in cells and tissues. They examine the benefits and limitations of different measurement techniques and improve them so that measurements are more robust, comparable, sensitive and accurate.

Super-resolution imaging methods such as the Structured Illumination Microscopy (SIM) demonstrated here and direct Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (dSTORM) can distinguish between fluorescence-labelled molecules and structures located less than 120 nanometres or 40 nanometres apart, respectively.

These techniques bridge a gap between the confocal and electron microscopes typically used by cell biologists, and their adoption will greatly aid understanding of important molecular processes underlying cell behaviour, for example secretion and endocytosis.

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