Optical microscopes are limited by a phenomenon known as the diffraction barrier, wherein the microscope can't differentiate two objects separated by less than half the wavelength of light used—roughly 200 nm on average for the visible spectrum. But by combining powerful optics and cutting-edge rendering algorithms, GE's new DeltaVision OMX Blaze is bringing this hidden realm's drama to light.
GE launched the £1 million OMX back in 2011. To sidestep the diffraction barrier, once thought to be the set physical limit of optical microscopy, the OMX uses a technique known as 3D structured illumination microscopy (SIM). This system projects a pattern of light onto the sample, which illuminates fluorescent probes embedded in the sample and create interference patterns. These patterns are then reconstructed by the rendering algorithms to generate these hi-res images. The OMX can examine samples down to a mere 100 nm—a tenth the size of the average bacteria—and generate images with double the resolution of existing optical microscopes.
"It's a pretty extraordinary feeling, to see moving images of live cells at a greater level of detail than anyone had witnessed before," said Paul Goodwin, science director for the microscope at GE Healthcare Life Sciences, in a press statement. The OMX is designed specifically for lab use and is currently employed in a variety of research including efforts to document Malaria and HIV transmission in live cells, the cellular division of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and a cancerous cell's response to chemotherapy.
The microscope can even capture the process of mitosis, wherein chromosomes divide into twin pairs, as Jane Stout, a researcher at Indiana University Bloomington's Medical Sciences Program, snapped last year.
"Some of us affectionately renamed it 'OMG' after we saw the images it could produce," Stout said. "This instrument, one of only a handful in the world, allows us to see details inside the cells at previously unprecedented resolution."
The image won the GE Healthcare Life Sciences 2012 Imaging Competition and will be displayed on a Times Square billboard in April. Check out more of these fantastic images below.