World's smallest periscopes

A team of scientists has designed the world's tiniest version of the periscope to peer at cells and other micro-organisms from all the sides at once.

"With an off-the-shelf laboratory microscope you only see cells from one side, the top," said Chris Janetopoulos, assistant professor of biological sciences at the Vanderbilt University (VU) and member of the research team.

"Now not only can we see the tops of cells, we can view their sides as well - something biologists almost never see," he added.

The researchers dubbed their devices "mirrored pyramidal wells". They consist of pyramidal-shaped cavities moulded into silicon whose interior surfaces are coated with a reflective layer of gold or platinum.

They are about the width of a human hair and can be made in a range of sizes to view different-sized objects. When a cell is placed in such a well and viewed with a regular microscope, the researcher can see several sides simultaneously.

"This technology is exciting because these mirrored wells can be made at very low cost, unlike other, more complex methods for 3D microscopy," said VU assistant professor Kevin Seale.

"This could easily become as ubiquitous as the microscope slide and could replace more expensive methods currently used to position individual cells," said Ron Reiserer, lab manager at the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE) who helped design the protocol used to make the micropyramids.

The Vanderbilt group is not the first to make microscopic pyramidal wells, but it is the first to apply them to make 3D images of microorganisms, said a Vanderbilt release.

These findings were published in the Journal of Microscopy.
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