Engineering the First Flat Lens for Immersion Microscopy

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Scientists at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have made huge strides forward in the field of immersion microscopy. This new design solves many of the problems that have been holding scientists back, and promises an exciting step forward when it comes to achieving immersion objectives.

Optical microscopes take light that has been scattered from hitting an object and collects it through a series of lenses. This allows the microscope to reconstruct the image. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect system; fine details are often lost in the translation.

Immersion microscopy proposes a unique solution to this problem. A thin layer of liquid is placed between the objective lens and the specimen slide. The higher refractive qualities of the liquid (usually oil or water) increases the spatial resolution considerably. The higher the refractive index of the liquid, the sharper the spatial resolution.

The problem with immersion microscopy comes from the lenses themselves: they are almost always hand-made, which is an expensive and time-consuming process. Additionally, each has to be adjusted specifically to the principles of the liquid being used. These drawbacks have made it difficult for scientists in this field to go forward with their research.

To solve this issue, the scientists utilized nanotechnology to make a new type of lens. This lens can be quickly and easily manufactured to fit the specifications of the liquids being used. The lens is fabricated with a single-step lithographic process. This means that with this new technology, lenses could be mass-produced, drastically cutting down on time and expenses.

“This new lens has the potential to overcome the drawbacks and challenges of lens-polishing techniques that have been used for centuries.”

Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS, and senior author of the paper.

Best of all, the lenses created are at least as effective — if not more so — than lenses constructed using the archaic method of being hand-polished. These new lenses are powerful, precise, and show a bold new future for the field of immersion microscopy.


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