$200 upgrade improves microscope performance by 100x

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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.

Better Microscopes

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.





Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.