Mar 21, 2009 | 2
PITTSBURGH—At a meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) here this past week, physical chemist W. E. Moerner of Stanford University presented a clever new trick for looking inside living cells. The technique allows views in three-dimensions and well beyond the so-called diffraction limit that ordinarily fuzzes up images at around half the wavelength of the light used. Moerner was this year's recipient of the APS's Irving Langmuir Prize in Physical Chemistry.
Techniques such as electron microscopy have long allowed exquisite imaging at the nanoscale, but they typically require careful preparation of the object to be imaged and are not practical for, say, looking inside living cells to see the processes taking place there. As physics students learn early on in optics, the best images usually obtainable using light can make out features no smaller than about half the light's wavelength, or about 200 nanometers using the shortest-wavelength visible light. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or about 40 billionths of an inch.) Biochemical structures in cells are much smaller than that.
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