Researchers at ITMO University in Saint Petersburg, Russia had developed a new camera capable of recording holographic images of living cells and other microscopic objects at one trillion frames per second.
Unlike electron microscopes, the new set-up can visualise transparent biological structures without the introduction of contrast agents.
A paper detailing the development process was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
The problem with imaging living cells is the speed of the physical and biochemical transformations taking place within them, which requires extremely fast and accurate equipment.
Even though electron microscopes can get the job done, the dye necessary to bring out the contrast in cells can affect their metabolism, thereby skewing the results.
Digital holographic microscopes, on the other hand, can easily sidestep this issue, but have low spatial resolution, which can severely limit the usefulness of the resulting image.
As a counterpoint to the abovementioned techniques, the new “femto-camera” can record phase deformations of ultra-short (femto-second) laser pulses that emerge when light passes through a sample of a studied tissue.
With the help of the new camera, scientists will be able to actively study the viability of cells undergoing a wide variety of different states, such as emerge during the introduction of viruses, heat, or foreign genetic material.
The device could help do away with one of the key issues in digital holographic microscopy, namely the difficulty of increasing resolution of a system at the stage of recording.
“Technically, we can scale the images dozens of times, setting the magnifying system between the object and the camera. Not only does this enhance the resolution, the measurement accuracy grow, too, since the number of interference bands does not change while they visually think in comparison to the sample,” said study co-author Nikolai Petrov.
The next step for the team will be to further develop the sophistication of the new camera, as currently, despite its advantages in terms of recording speed and processing the resulting holograms, it’s not up to par with most modern microscopes at the level of overall functionality.