Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Using Telescope Optics to Sharpen Microscopic Images

When taking extremely deep space images, scientists must analyze the incident angle of incoming light to correct and sharpen their photos. Since light passing through a medium like space is affected by all masses in its path to the point of observation (through luminescence, orbiting haze, even gravity), a negative must be created and applied to eliminate the blurriness. For a general understanding, take a look at the image to the left.

This basic principle is now being applied to laboratory microscopy as well. Often times, when working with human samples, overlying tissue can blur the image of the cells below. Now using the concept of image correction from space photography, scientists have developed a series of computer algorithms to, based upon analysis of various tissues, correct the image for cells below blocking tissue.

Researchers from Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Coleman Technologies, have this description for their new technology,

Central to the technique is a liquid crystal “spatial light modulator,” which both measures and samples’ optical variations and then sculpts a wave of light into a shape that all but nullifies the sample’s own image-blurring inconsistencies.

With control algorithms devised by the researchers, the liquid crystal element specifies a sequence of illumination patterns that serially probe the deflections of incoming light rays in tens or even hundreds of specific regions of the sample by measuring the image displacements caused by such deflections. An algorithm then translates these measurements into control signals that transform the same liquid crystal component into a mask that tilts the light rays so they converge at a common point, thus negating the sample’s own optical aberrations.

So far the researchers have proven the principle by successfully imaging one-micron diameter spheres tucked underneath a 300-micron thick slice of mouse brain tissue and neurons up to 400-microns deep inside mouse brain tissue.

That's some serious depth! Hopefully this will boost the rates for accurate diagnoses (brain tumor or otherwise).

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