Microscopes are incredibly useful in many research fields, but they are also notoriously expensive to replace with new models equipped with higher-resolution lenses, a reality that hampers the abilities of medical clinics and research facilities in developing countries to carry out complex tests.
Or at least, that use to be the case. Thanks to a research breakthrough at the California Institute of Technology, as reported by the institute’s website, it’s now possible to increase the resolution of older microscopes by a factor of 100 with a relatively simple $200 upgrade.
According to Changhuei Yang, professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and medical engineering at Caltech, improving the resolution of conventional microscopes has been quite a challenge. Up to now, doing so has required the addition of increasingly complex stacks of lenses, and the results haven’t been optimal. Researchers have had to choose between viewing a wide area, at low resolutions, or much smaller areas at very low resolutions.
With this new system, that all changes. By adding in an array of LED lights and some inexpensive computational hardware, upgraded microscopes are able to capture multiple low-resolution images of whatever is being viewed, and stitch everything together into a final, high-resolution image. That final image is up to 100 times sharper than what those same microscopes could capture on their own.
Changhuei Yang, professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and medical engineering at Caltech and the senior author of a paper outlining the strategy, said that the technique is so efficient that the actual performance of the microscope’s lenses is “rendered almost irrelevant”.
This is fantastic news for people in need of a more powerful microscope, but who are hamstrung by tight budgets that don’t allow for new equipment or costly upgrades.