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How Scientists Hacked a Normal Microscope Into a Gigapixel Superscope

Illustration for article titled How Scientists Hacked a Normal Microscope Into a Gigapixel Superscope

Microscopes are a dime a dozen in universities, so there's plenty of fun to be had hacking 'em any way you can—like a team of researchers from Caltech, who have developed a cheap and easy way to increase their resolution by a factor of 100.


Normally, increasing magnification power of a microscope requires new internal lenses, which means you either plump for high resolution or large field of view—but not both. But a new technique, developed by Changhuei Yang at Caltech and published in Nature Photonics, changes that.

It takes multiple low-res images of a sample, each corresponding to a single light in a matrix of LEDs below. Each image is captured with a different LED in the matrix lit up. Then, a computer uses the low-res images in conjunction with knowledge of which LED was illuminated to stitch the images together into a composite—with resolution of up to a billion pixels. Yang explains:

“The optical performance of the objective lens is rendered almost irrelevant as we can improve the resolution and correct for aberrations computationally. You only need to add an LED array to an existing microscope. No other hardware modification is needed. The rest of the job is done by the computer.”


All in, the hack uses $200 of software and hardware—which in scientific research terms is filthy cheap. Expect to hear researchers everywhere giggling excitedly about their lives becoming much, much easier. [Nature Photonics via Caltech via Engadget]

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As a former basic science researcher using microscopy. I'm very wary of computational manipulation to increase resolution. Any convolution requires assumptions. And the devil is in the details.