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Close-up views of cells.

Over the centuries, microscopists have developed many different techniques for staining biological material to highlight certain features of interest in tissue or within individual cells. The same techniques may now prove useful with a new type of optical microscope that produces sharp images of objects smaller than the wavelength of light used to illuminate the sample.

When light passes through a tiny opening, it tends to spread out, or diffract. This optical effect limits a conventional microscope's resolution. But by making the distance from the aperture to the surface being viewed much smaller than the wavelength of the illuminating light, researchers can evade the diffraction limit and generate high-resolution images of surfaces (see diagram).

Eric Betzig of AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., and his collaborators send visible laser light through an aluminum-sheathed optical fiber tapered to a fine point 70 nanometers wide and positioned only 10 nanometers above the sample. Moving the glass fiber tip back and forth generates an image that reveals components as small as 15 nanometers across. In tests of their instrument, the researchers have obtained remarkably detailed images of the skeletal sea/folding inside a cell.

Betzig described his groups preliminary results at the Quantum Electronics and Laser Science Conference, held this week in Baltimore.
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Title Annotation:optical microscope magnifies cell components as small as 15 nanometers across
Publication:Science News
Date:May 8, 1993
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