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: Innovative strategy to facilitate organ repair

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A new era for atomic clocks

Feb 05, 2014

A revolution is under way in timekeeping. Precision timekeeping based on atomic clocks already underpins much of our modern technology—telecommunications, computer networks and satellite-based positioning ...

New kind of microscope uses neutrons

Oct 04, 2013

Researchers at MIT, working with partners at NASA, have developed a new concept for a microscope that would use neutrons—subatomic particles with no electrical charge—instead of beams of light or electrons ...

Recommended for you

Innovative strategy to facilitate organ repair

Apr 18, 2014

A significant breakthrough could revolutionize surgical practice and regenerative medicine. A team led by Ludwik Leibler from the Laboratoire Matière Molle et Chimie (CNRS/ESPCI Paris Tech) and Didier Letourneur ...

'Exotic' material is like a switch when super thin

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Ever-shrinking electronic devices could get down to atomic dimensions with the help of transition metal oxides, a class of materials that seems to have it all: superconductivity, magnetoresistance ...

Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

Apr 17, 2014

A new nano-membrane made out of the 'super material' graphene is extremely light and breathable. Not only can this open the door to a new generation of functional waterproof clothing, but also to ultra-rapid filtration. The ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...