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Vanderbilt scientists invent world's smallest periscopes
Date:2/25/2009

A team of Vanderbilt scientists have invented the world's smallest version of the periscope and are using it to look at cells and other micro-organisms from several sides at once.

"With an off-the-shelf laboratory microscope you only see cells from one side, the top," says team member Chris Janetopoulos, assistant professor of biological sciences. "Not only can we see the tops of cells, we can view their sides as well something biologists almost never see."

The researchers have dubbed their devices "mirrored pyramidal wells." As the name implies, they consist of pyramidal-shaped cavities molded into silicon whose interior surfaces are coated with a reflective layer of gold or platinum. They are microscopic in dimension 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 optical 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," says Assistant Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering Kevin Seale.

According to Ron Reiserer, "This could easily become as ubiquitous as the microscope slide and could replace more expensive methods currently used to position individual cells." Reiserer is a 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. In 2006, a group of scientists in England created pyramidal micromirrors and applied them to trapping atoms. And last spring researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology used similar structures to track nanoparticles.

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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

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