Devising nano vision for an optical microscope

Feb 10, 2005
nano vision for an optical microscope

Contrary to conventional wisdom, technology's advance into the vanishingly small realm of molecules and atoms may not be out of sight for the venerable optical microscope, after all. In fact, research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) suggests that a hybrid version of the optical microscope might be able to image and measure features smaller than 10 nanometers--a tiny fraction of the wavelength of visible light.

In a preliminary test of the embryonic technique, NIST scientists used violet light with a wavelength of 436 nanometers to image features as small as 40 nanometers, about five times smaller than possible with a conventional optical microscope.

Roughly speaking, such a feat is akin to picking up a solitary dime with a clumsy front-end loader. If successfully developed, the imaging technology could be readily incorporated into chip-making and other commercial-scale processes for making parts and products with nanometer-scale dimensions.

The wavelengths of light in the visible part of the spectrum greatly exceed nanoscale dimensions. Consequently, the resolution of conventional light-based imaging methods is limited to about 200 nanometers--too large to resolve the details of nanotechnology, which, by definition, are no more than half that size.

However, a newly begun, five-year research effort at NIST suggests that a novel combination of illumination, detection and computing technologies can circumvent this limitation. Success would extend the technology's 400-year-long record as an indispensable imaging and measurement tool well into the expanding realm of nanotechnology.

Called phase-sensitive, scatter-field optical imaging, the computer-intensive technique under development at NIST uses a set of dynamically engineered light waves optimized for particular properties (such as angular orientation and polarization). How this structured illumination field--engineered differently to highlight the particular geometry of each type of specimen--scatters after striking the target can reveal the tiniest of details.

"The scattering patterns are extremely sensitive to small changes in the shape and size of the scattering feature," explains Rick Silver, a physicist in NIST's Precision Engineering Division.

Explore further: New 'designer carbon' boosts battery performance

Related Stories

QR codes engineered into cybersecurity protection

Feb 27, 2015

QR, or Quick Response, codes – those commonly black and white boxes that people scan with a smartphone to learn more about something – have been used to convey information about everything from cereals ...

Recommended for you

New 'designer carbon' boosts battery performance

14 hours ago

Stanford University scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly boosts the performance of energy-storage technologies. Their results are featured on the cover of the journal ACS Central Sc ...

Self-replicating nanostructures made from DNA

May 28, 2015

(Phys.org)β€”Is it possible to engineer self-replicating nanomaterials? It could be if we borrow nature's building blocks. DNA is a self-replicating molecule where its component parts, nucleotides, have specific ...

Could computers reach light speed?

May 28, 2015

Light waves trapped on a metal's surface travel nearly as fast as light through the air, and new research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory shows these waves, called surface plasmons, travel far enough ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.