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
Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
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New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
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DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.
Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
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