Computer system boosts the resolution of ordinary microscopes


July 31, 2013

Using Caltech's system, an ordinary microscope can capture 100 times more information per image (Photo: Shutterstock)

Using Caltech's system, an ordinary microscope can capture 100 times more information per image (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Thanks to research being conducted at the California Institute of Technology, regular microscopes could soon be capable of much higher-resolution imaging. Instead of making changes to the microscopes’ optics, the Caltech researchers are instead focusing on using a computer program to process and combine images from the devices.

The main hardware change to an existing microscope involves installing an array of about 150 LEDs beneath the stage, in place of the regular light. Using each bulb in that array one at a time, 150 images are then acquired of the sample that’s being viewed. In each image, the light is originating from a slightly different (and known) direction. The computer program then stitches all of those images together into one cohesive image of the sample.

That composite image represents not only the light’s intensity, but also the light phase information (related to the angle at which the light travels) for each of the sub-images. Using that light field data, the program allows users to zoom in on any part of the overall image, while still being able to make out details. It’s also able to digitally correct for flaws, such as areas which are initially out of focus.

Ultimately, images produced by the system contain 100 times more information than those produced by an unaided microscope. Additionally, it creates images with both the wide field of view of a lower-powered lens, and the resolution of a stronger one. Ordinarily, microscope users have to choose between getting wide shots of samples in which details can’t be made out, or detailed shots of just a small part of the sample – sort of like using either a wide-angle or close-up lens on a camera.

It should cost approximately US$200 to add the technology to one existing microscope. The scientists hope that it could be used in applications such as digital pathology, wafer inspection and forensic photography, or by medical clinics in developing nations.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Photonics.

Source: Caltech

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

Could we get some sample images?

Joel Detrow

They are starting to do something similar (but without the different angles and optics calculations) with video of suspects or licence plates where several frames are used to get one picture with a much higher resolution than any of the individual frames. It's much like the brain smears incoming information over short time periods to improve perception. But the added feature of using different but known camera angles is pretty clever.

Snake Oil Baron

Sorry, I should have said different light angles--not camera angles.

Snake Oil Baron

@Joel. Where I first heard it:

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