In the June issue of Physics World, Paul O’Shea, a biophysicist at the University of Nottingham, Michael Somekh, an optical engineer at Nottingham’s Institute of Biophysics, Imaging & Optical Science, and William Barnes, professor of photonics at the University of Exeter, outline these new techniques and explore why their development is an endeavour that requires the best efforts of both biologists and physicists.
The traditional division between the disciplines has found common ground in the effort to image cellular functions. While some living cells are larger than 80 micrometres across, important and interesting cellular processes - such as signalling between cells - can take place at length scales of less than one micrometre.
This poses serious challenges for traditional imaging techniques such as fluorescence microscopy, whereby optical microscopes are used to observe biological structures that have been tagged with fluorescent molecules that emit photons when irradiated with light of a specific wavelength, as these offer a resolution of at best 200 nanometres. Increasingly, biologists have turned to physicists for help in breaking through this “diffraction” limit.
The result has been the development in recent years of several novel techniques to extend the reach of fluorescence microscopy. These include methods such as stimulated emission depletion microscopy (STED), stochastic reconstruction microscopy (STORM), photo-activated localization microscopy (PALM) and structured illumination microscopy, all of which are capable of resolving structures as small as 50 nanometres across. These techniques build on theoretical and experimental tools common to physics that allow the physical diffraction limits of light to be broken.
As the authors of the article explain, “What is fascinating is that the experimental needs of biology are driving developments in imaging technology, while advances in imaging technology are in turn inspiring new biological questions. Many of these developments are also going hand in hand with a revolution that is taking place in biological thinking, which intimately involves physicists.”
Also in this issue:
• Physics World looks at how experiments on B-mesons using the LHCb detector at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider could provide the facility with its first discoveries
• A century after Henri Becquerel’s death, Physics World explores the role of serendipity in science and whether his discovery of radioactivity was down to luck or genius
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Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
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The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
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The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
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