Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

Gemlike 3D microscope lens developed


March 22, 2011

Engineers have created a single fixed lens that allows microscopes to capture three-dimensional images(All photos courtesy Ohio State University)

Engineers have created a single fixed lens that allows microscopes to capture three-dimensional images
(All photos courtesy Ohio State University)

Image Gallery (4 images)

Engineers from Ohio State University have developed what they say is the world's first microscope lens capable of obtaining three-dimensional images. While 3D microscopy has already been achieved, it has previously required the use of multiple lenses, or of a single camera that moves around the object being imaged. The new device, however, is just a single lens that sits in place on an existing microscope.

The prototype lens was cut from a transparent piece of polymethyl methacrylate thermoplastic, also known as acrylic glass, using a commercially available milling tool outfitted with a diamond blade. The finished product, which is about the size of a fingernail, looks not unlike a gemstone. One side has a central facet circled by eight other facets, while the other side is flat. Unlike a gemstone, however, the facets are not intended to be identical – each one differs very slightly from the others in size and angle, which is an example of what is known as "freeform optics."

The lens was attached to a camera-equipped microscope, which looked down through the faceted side, to objects placed underneath. The nine facets each captured their own images of the objects, from slightly different angles. Those nine images were then fed to a computer, which combined them into one three-dimensional image. Objects that were observed included the tip of a ballpoint pen, with a diameter of about 1 millimeter, and a micro drill bit, with a diameter of just 0.2 mm.

It is hoped that once commercialized, the lens could be used in the manufacturing of microelectronics and medical devices, for medical testing, and to replace more complex machine vision systems. Although the prototype was machine milled, the engineers state that subsequent lenses could be less expensively produced via traditional molding techniques.

Allen Yi, associate professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State, and postdoctoral researcher Lei Li led the research. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of the Optical Society of America A.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Cool! This idea could go commercial in a very short time, and even be fairly inexpensive. By creating 3d models, computers could run tolerance testing very quickly on large patches of parts.

Charles Bosse

Great piece of Technology, we need to add it to a Vision System machine with multi spectral lighting for Live cell analysis, among other studies.

Facebook User

3D objects under microscopes using this type of lens. Wonder if one could also implement lens with similar concept for 3D T.V , projector or other 3d gaming for computers design screens using this type of lens technology? Or would it be too radical.


The lens is the least of this invention. This can be made by any gemcutter in sapphire, quartz, or other material. The piece I would love to see available is the software to integrate the fly\'s eye 9 facet signal into a usable 3D representation. That\'s the hard part.

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles