1 Billion Pixel Microscope

Caltech engineers hack a standard microscope, creating a billion pixel imager.

Caltech, LED, microscope, hack, pixelEngineers at Caltech have hacked an inexpensive microscope, turning it into a billion-pixel imager that makes even the best standard microscopes pale in comparison.

One of the most fundamental truths in microscopy is that you can have either high resolution images of a small area or low resolution views of wide fields, but you can’t have both. Well, Changhuei Yang and his team at Caltech have reversed that truth with their new microscope hack.

To re-engineer their microscope, the Caltech team leveraged a concept known as Fourier ptychographic microscopy, computationally correcting the low-resolution imagery. By adding a series of LEDs, the microscope could variably illuminate a larger field, leaving the Caltech engineers with the ability to piece together a 20X resolution image from a 2X lens.

In the most recent issue of Nature Photonics, Yang describes the significance of his team’s breakthrough. “What this project has developed is a means of taking low-resolution images and managing to tease out both the intensity and the phase of the light field of the target sample. Using that information, you can actually correct for optical aberration issues that otherwise confound your ability to resolve objects well.”

What’s even more incredible is that Yang and his team transformed a standard microscope into a power research tool with a few LEDs and a $200. While it’s true that you have to have advanced understanding of optics and condensed matter physics to truly grasp how this project works, for most of us just the idea of having a billion-pixel imager is cool in-and-of-itself.

As soon as Yang and his team release an Instructables for their project, you can bet that I’ll be hacking the microscope at my place.

Image Courtesy of CalTech