Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have come up with an inexpensive way to boost the resolution of common microscopes by a factor of 100, allowing medical clinics in developing countries to conduct complex tests with existing equipment.
Changhuei Yang, a professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and medical engineering at Caltech, announced the breakthrough Sunday in an article published in Nature Photonics.
Traditonally, increasing the magnification power in a microscope meant stacking more lens elements inside, pushing up cost and forcing scientists to choose between high resolution or a wide field of view, Yang explained.
The CIT system takes multiple low-resolution images of a subject, each corresponding to a single light in an LED array below the sample. That way, the a computer has information from light hitting the sample at different angles when it stitches the images together into a composite with resolution of up to a billion pixels.
“The optical performance of the objective lens is rendered almost irrelevant,” Yang told Caltech, “as we can improve the resolution and correct for aberrations computationally.”
Yang said the process has the potential to improve the detail, efficiency and speed of operations ranging from medical pathology to semiconductor inspection, all without big investments in new technology. The computational system costs about $200 to add to conventional microscope. (Legos apparently optional.)
“You only need to add an LED array to an existing microscope. No other hardware modification is needed. The rest of the job is done by the computer.”
Image credits: Yan Liang and Guoan Zheng, via Caltech)