Nanoscale paparazzi

Image credit: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library
Date:1 February 2010

Electron microscopes can see things 1 000 times smaller than what is visible with light microscopes, but they have a large limitation: they create doses of radiation that kill any micro-organism being examined.

Researchers at MIT have proposed an alternative that uses two stacked rings to divert the electron beam above or below the specimen, never striking it directly. Electrons would easily hop from ring to ring until an object placed between the loops traps electrons on one side or the other. The microscope would then register a dark spot.

Combining the dark and light points would create a detailed black-andwhite image. The new microscope could produce the first “live” images of biological phenomena, such as the chemical processes of white blood cells or even the individual nucleic acids in DNA. An early prototype could be operational within the next five years.

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