Lens enables super resolution imaging on standard optical microscope

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LIG Nanowise, a Manchester, UK-based nanotechnology start up, has announced the commercial release of super-resolution microsphere amplified lens (SMAL) technology, which dramatically lowers the cost of super resolution (SR) imaging down to 70nm.

With a magnification of x400, the lens enables scientists to view the nanoscopic world as never before seen with standard optical microscopes. Other commercially available lenses able to achieve this level of magnification can cost up to a third of a million pounds. According to LIG Nanowise, the system also costs five times less than stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy and stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) systems, and is estimated to be 10 times cheaper than a standard electron microscope.

The SMAL technology was developed by Professor Lin Li, director of the laser processing research centre at the University of Manchester, who demonstrated the basic principal of this technique in 2011. 

LIG Nanowise has deployed this technology inside its new 'Nanopsis' imaging system, which the company describes as 'world's first' microsphere nanoscope. It works by using a microsphere (tiny transparent spherical beads) to gather invisible sub-wavelength light and convert it into a virtual super-resolution image. Software then stitches these images together in real time to generate full colour, widefield scans of materials and life samples – resolving details down to 70 nanometres, surpassing the theoretical limit of standard optical microscopy (200 nanometres).

This level of detailed imaging is vital for researchers working in drug discovery, oncology and virology, with advanced materials such as graphene and the latest microchip technologies. This has traditionally required expensive equipment only found in universities, large corporations, or specialist centres. High demand for these facilities means turnaround for sample imaging can be slow – adding days or weeks to tight timescales – as well as being unreliable and costly. 

By removing this barrier, Nanopsis will enable faster throughput for R&D laboratories, universities and microelectronics quality control around the world.

'Researchers can use our microscopes to validate samples and carry out routine work in their own laboratory without having to waste valuable time booking into an imaging centre.  This is because unlike other super-resolution technologies, which require a huge amount of expertise, our Nanopsis nanoscopes can be used by anyone with basic undergraduate scientific training – making it fast, convenient and highly cost effective,' explained Professor Li, who is also chairman of LIG Nanowise. 

'Equally important is the fact that these reliable, repeatable imaging results are delivered at the frontline of research, rather than part of a disjointed process in an inaccessible centre. Our aim is to make super-resolution imaging more accessible to researchers across the globe.'

Another advantage of the system is that, for biological and medical applications, the optical lens does not have to be in contact with the sample and so removes the risk of potential damage.

The super-resolution sector represents around 20 per cent of the total global microscopy market, which is estimated to be worth around £4bn and forecast to rise to £5 billion by 2020.

LIG Nanowise and Manchester Science Partnerships are holding a joint launch event with live demos of Nanopsis on 29 June 2017 at Citylabs 1.0 in Manchester.