Tag Archives: microscopy

Bipolar disorder at the nanoscale

In all the talk generated by the various brain projects (BRAIN initiative [US], The Human Brain Project [European Union], Brain Canada), there’s remarkably little discussion about mental illness. So, this news is a little unusual.

Using super-high resolution technique scientists at Northwestern University (Chicago, Illinois, US) believe they’ve made a discovery which explains how bipolar disorder affects the brain according to an Oct. 22, 2014 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert and ScienceDaily) by Erin White,

Scientists used a new super-resolution imaging method — the same method recognized with the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry — to peer deep into brain tissue from mice with bipolar-like behaviors. In the synapses (where communication between brain cells occurs), they discovered tiny “nanodomain” structures with concentrated levels of ANK3 — the gene most strongly associated with bipolar disorder risk. ANK3 is coding for the protein ankyrin-G.

“We knew that ankyrin-G played an important role in bipolar disease, but we didn’t know how,” said Northwestern Medicine scientist Peter Penzes, corresponding author of the paper. “Through this imaging method we found the gene formed in nanodomain structures in the synapses, and we determined that these structures control or regulate the behavior of synapses.”

Penzes is a professor in physiology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The results were published Oct. 22 in the journal Neuron.

High-profile cases, including actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and politician Jesse Jackson, Jr., have brought attention to bipolar disorder. The illness causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. About 3 percent of Americans experience bipolar disorder symptoms, and there is no cure.

Recent large-scale human genetic studies have shown that genes can contribute to disease risk along with stress and other environmental factors. However, how these risk genes affect the brain is not known.

This is the first time any psychiatric risk gene has been analyzed at such a detailed level of resolution. As explained in the paper, Penzes used the Nikon Structured Illumination Super-resolution Microscope to study a mouse model of bipolar disorder. The microscope realizes resolution of up to 115 nanometers. To put that size in perspective, a nanometer is one-tenth of a micron, and there are 25,400 microns in one inch. Very few of these microscopes exist worldwide.

“There is important information about genes and diseases that can only been seen at this level of resolution,” Penzes said. “We provide a neurobiological explanation of the function of the leading risk gene, and this might provide insight into the abnormalities in bipolar disorder.”

The biological framework presented in this paper could be used in human studies of bipolar disorder in the future, with the goal of developing therapeutic approaches to target these genes.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Psychiatric Risk Factor ANK3/Ankyrin-G Nanodomains Regulate the Structure and Function of Glutamatergic Synapses by Katharine R. Smith, Katherine J. Kopeikina, Jessica M. Fawcett-Patel, Katherine Leaderbrand, Ruoqi Gao, Britta Schürmann, Kristoffer Myczek, Jelena Radulovic, Geoffrey T. Swanson, and Peter Penzes. Neuron, Volume 84, Issue 2, p399–415, 22 October 2014 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.010

This paper is behind a paywall.

You can find more about super-high resolution and nanoscopy in my Oct. 8, 2014 post about the 2014 Nobel Chemistry prize winners.

Nanoscopy and a 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry

An Oct. 8, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry honourees,

 For a long time optical microscopy was held back by a presumed limitation: that it would never obtain a better resolution than half the wavelength of light. Helped by fluorescent molecules the Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2014 ingeniously circumvented this limitation.

Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.
In what has become known as nanoscopy, scientists visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells. They can see how molecules create synapses between nerve cells in the brain; they can track proteins involved in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases as they aggregate; they follow individual proteins in fertilized eggs as these divide into embryos.

An Oct, 8, 2014 Royal Swedish Academy of Science press release, which originated the news item, expands on the ‘groundbreaking’ theme,

It was all but obvious that scientists should ever be able to study living cells in the tiniest molecular detail. In 1873, the microscopist Ernst Abbe stipulated a physical limit for the maximum resolution of traditional optical microscopy: it could never become better than 0.2 micrometres. Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner are awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014 for having bypassed this limit. Due to their achievements the optical microscope can now peer into the nanoworld.

Two separate principles are rewarded. One enables the method stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy, developed by Stefan Hell in 2000. Two laser beams are utilized; one stimulates fluorescent molecules to glow, another cancels out all fluorescence except for that in a nanometre-sized volume. Scanning over the sample, nanometre for nanometre, yields an image with a resolution better than Abbe’s stipulated limit.

Eric Betzig and William Moerner, working separately, laid the foundation for the second method, single-molecule microscopy. The method relies upon the possibility to turn the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. Scientists image the same area multiple times, letting just a few interspersed molecules glow each time. Superimposing these images yields a dense super-image resolved at the nanolevel. In 2006 Eric Betzig utilized this method for the first time.

Today, nanoscopy is used world-wide and new knowledge of greatest benefit to mankind is produced on a daily basis.

Here’s an image illustrating different microscopy resolutions including one featuring single-molecule microscopy,

The centre image shows lysosome membranes and is one of the first ones taken by Betzig using single-molecule microscopy. To the left, the same image taken using conventional microscopy. To the right, the image of the membranes has been enlarged. Note the scale division of 0.2 micrometres, equivalent to Abbe’s diffraction limit. Image: Science 313:1642–1645. [downloaded from http://www.kva.se/en/pressroom/Press-releases-2014/nobelpriset-i-kemi-2014/]

The centre image shows lysosome membranes and is one of the first ones taken by Betzig using single-molecule microscopy. To the left, the same image taken using conventional microscopy. To the right, the image of the membranes has been enlarged. Note the scale division of 0.2 micrometres, equivalent to Abbe’s diffraction limit. Image: Science 313:1642–1645. [downloaded from http://www.kva.se/en/pressroom/Press-releases-2014/nobelpriset-i-kemi-2014/]

The press release goes on to provide some biographical details about the three honourees and information about the financial size of the award,

Eric Betzig, U.S. citizen. Born 1960 in Ann Arbor, MI, USA. Ph.D. 1988 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA. Group Leader at Janelia Farm Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, VA, USA.

Stefan W. Hell, German citizen. Born 1962 in Arad, Romania. Ph.D. 1990 from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and Division head at the German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany.

William E. Moerner, U.S. citizen. Born 1953 in Pleasanton, CA, USA. Ph.D. 1982 from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA. Harry S. Mosher Professor in Chemistry and Professor, by courtesy, of Applied Physics at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.

Prize amount: SEK 8 million, to be shared equally between the Laureates.

The amount is in Swedish Krona. In USD, it is approximately $1.1M; in CAD, it is approximately $1.2M; and, in pounds sterling (British pounds), it is approximately £689,780.

Congratulations to all three gentlemen!

ETA Oct. 14, 2014: Azonano features an Oct. 14, 2014 news item from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL)  congratulating the three recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The item also features a description of the recipients’ groundbreaking work along with an update on how this pioneering work has influenced and inspired further research in the field of nanoscopy at the NPL.

Institute for Genomic Biology’s Art of Science 3.0

I like pretty pictures,

 

Progenitor cells fusing and differentiating into contractile skeletal muscle tissue (Tissue engineering is a promising strategy that could one day provide a cure for patients that need replacements for damaged tissues and organs. Here, the researchers show how stem cells can mature to form skeletal muscle in a matrix bed of proteins. The differentiated muscle fibers are contractile within two weeks) Multiphoton Confocal Microscope Zeiss 710 with Mai Tai eHP Ti: sapphire laser Vincent Chan Rashid Bashir Lab, Laboratory of Integrated Biomedical Micro/Nanotechnology & Applications http://libna.mntl.illinois.edu/

Progenitor cells fusing and differentiating into contractile skeletal muscle tissue (Tissue engineering is a promising strategy that could one day provide a cure for patients that need replacements for damaged tissues and organs. Here, the researchers show how stem cells can mature to form skeletal muscle in a matrix bed of proteins. The differentiated muscle fibers are contractile within two weeks)
Multiphoton Confocal Microscope Zeiss 710 with Mai Tai eHP Ti: sapphire laser
Vincent Chan
Rashid Bashir Lab, Laboratory of Integrated Biomedical
Micro/Nanotechnology & Applications
http://libna.mntl.illinois.edu/

The image I’ve selected is part of the Art of Science 3.0 exhibit being displayed at Chicago’s Midway airport, as per a Jan. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

An art exhibit at Chicago’s Midway Airport features images created by using microscopy equipment by ZEISS. Researchers from the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) Core Facilities, affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, used state-of-the-art microscopes for pioneering research to capture images that address significant problems facing humanity related to health, agriculture, energy and the environment. Twelve different images from IGB’s innovative research have been turned into pieces of artwork that travelers can view while using the airport. Five of the images in the exhibit were produced using ZEISS equipment.

You can find all 12 images on the Art of Science 3.0 Facebook page here.

As for whether or not you will see this exhibit if you should be at the Midway Airport, that’s a little difficult to determine. It was an Oct. 25, 2013 Zeiss press release which originated the Jan. 2014 news item on Nanowerk and I can’t find any information in the press release or elsewhere about the airport exhibition dates.

There is a bit more information about the Art of Science 3.0 exhibit (both at the airport. online, and elsewhere) in this undated Institute for Genomic Biology  (IGB) news release,

The exhibit, located past security in Concourse A, features images used in the Institute’s innovative research projects that address significant problems facing humanity related to health, agriculture, energy and the environment.

“Art is a really cool way to learn and jumpstart conversations about research,” said Kathryn Faith Coulter, the Institute’s multimedia design specialist and exhibit’s managing artist. “By sparking a natural curiosity through these vibrant images, we hope people will discover how the research conducted at the University of Illinois relates to their families, friends, and communities.”

The exhibit, which includes two 10-foot banners and 10 pictures, illustrates the microscopic subjects that researchers are able to capture through the Institute’s Core Facilities, which provides faculty and students from across the Urbana campus and east-central region resources for biological microscopy and image analysis.

“This exhibit includes images from a variety of scientific disciplines, from coral polyps to kidney stones and human colon cancer cells,” said Glenn Fried, Director of Core Facilities. “These images represent much more than art. They represent scientific breakthroughs and discoveries that will impact how we treat human diseases, produce abundant food, and fuel a technologically-driven society.”

By the way, there will be an Art of Science exhibit 4.0 later this year (2014), according to the IGB news release,

The Art of Science 4.0 exhibit will be held April 3–7, 2014 at the indi go Artist Co-Op gallery, with an opening reception on April 3.

You can find out more about the  Institute for Genomic Biology here..

Get out your ‘haptic optical tweezers’

I’m about to have a paper published Scientists at l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie (France) have made it possible to touch objects at the microscale with a technique that  is distinctly different from the haptic microscopes used for work at the nanoscale . Microscopes designed for use at the nanoscale are haptic and have been since the beginning. By contrast, a standard microscope was designed as an optical device. From the Sept. 13, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

In a breakthrough that may usher in a new era in the exploration of the worlds that are a million times smaller than human beings, researchers at Université Pierre et Marie Curie in France have unveiled a new technique that allows microscope users to manipulate samples using a technology known as “haptic optical tweezers.”

Featured in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, which is produced by AIP [American Institute of Physics] Publishing, the new technique allows users to explore the microworld by sensing and exerting piconewton-scale forces with trapped microspheres with the haptic optical tweezers, allowing improved dexterity of micromanipulation and micro-assembly.

This research required a mix of different experimental techniques and theoretical knowledge. Labs at the Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique possessed expertise in both microrobotics and in haptics which were needed but the research team, as the project progressed, realized that they needed additional expertise in optics and vision, which was available at the university. …

The ability to use touch as a tool to allow exploration, diagnosis and assembly of widespread types of elements from sensors, microsystems to biomedical elements, including cells, bacteria, viruses, and proteins is a real advance for laboratories. These objects are fragile, and their dimensions make them difficult to see under microscope. If this tool can restore the sense of touch under microscopic operation, it will help not only efficiency but also expand scientific creativity, said Dr. Pacoret [Cecile Pacoret, a co-author of the study], adding that she and her team are excited about the possibilities.

You can find a citation and a link for the paper at the end of the ScienceDaily news item.

Spider skin image winner of FEI/National Geographic contest

In a July 4, 2012 posting, I described an FEI/National Geographic image contest “Explore the Unseen” which was then open for entries. FEI, a microscopy company, runs the contest annually and in 2012 partnered with National Geographic to offer a grand prize that featured two coach class tickets to a US destination of the winner’s choosing and inclusion of their image in a special gallery promoting National Geographic’s film, “Invisible Worlds.”

The grand prize winner has been announced in a Feb. 13, 2013 news item on Azonano,

FEI is proud to announce that María Carbajo of the Electron Microscopy Unit in the Research Support Services of the University of Extremadura has been awarded the grand prize in the 2012 FEI Owner Image Contest for her entry “Spider Skin”.

FEI asked vistors to their website to vote for their favorite image among the monthly winners. A total of nearly 1000 votes were received and María Carbajo’s image, Spider Skin, narrowly beat out other worthy images.

María’s entry shows the texture of the skin of a spider, with a hair root and brochosomes from a leafhopper preyed upon by the spider.

The following “Spider Skin” image and its technical details were downloaded from FEI’s 2012 contest winners (undated) news release,

Image Details: Instrument used:QUANTA 3D FEG Magnification: 12000x Horizontal Field Width: 24.9 Vacuum: 2.7e-3 Pa Voltage: 10kV Spot: 5 Working Distance: 10 Detector: ETD Credit: María Carbajo of the Electron Microscopy Unit in the Research Support Services of the University of Extremadura

Image Details:
Instrument used:QUANTA 3D FEG
Magnification: 12000x
Horizontal Field Width: 24.9
Vacuum: 2.7e-3 Pa
Voltage: 10kV
Spot: 5
Working Distance: 10
Detector: ETD
Credit: María Carbajo of the Electron Microscopy Unit in the Research Support Services of the University of Extremadura

You can find more images that were submitted to the contest here.

 

Self-assembling liquid lenses used in optical microscopy to reveal nanoscale objects

A Jan. 21, 2013 news item on Azonano highlights some research on microscope and self-assembling lenses done at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA),

By using tiny liquid lenses that self-assemble around microscopic objects, a team from UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created an optical microscopy method that allows users to directly see objects more than 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Coupled with computer-based computational reconstruction techniques, this portable and cost-effective platform, which has a wide field of view, can detect individual viruses and nanoparticles, making it potentially useful in the diagnosis of diseases in point-of-care settings or areas where medical resources are limited.

The UCLA Jan. 20, 2013 news release, written by Matthew Chin and which originated the news item, explains why another microscopy technique is needed for viewing objects at the nanoscale,

Electron microscopy is one of the current gold standards for viewing nanoscale objects. This technology uses a beam of electrons to outline the shape and structure of nanoscale objects. Other optical imaging–based techniques are used as well, but all of them are relatively bulky, require time for the preparation and analysis of samples, and have a limited field of view — typically smaller than 0.2 square millimeters — which can make viewing particles in a sparse population, such as low concentrations of viruses, challenging.

To overcome these issues, the UCLA team, led by Aydogan Ozcan, an associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering, developed the new optical microscopy platform by using nanoscale lenses that stick to the objects that need to be imaged. This lets users see single viruses and other objects in a relatively inexpensive way and allows for the processing of a high volume of samples.

At scales smaller than 100 nanometers, optical microscopy becomes a challenge because of its weak light-signal levels. Using a special liquid composition, nanoscale lenses, which are typically thinner than 200 nanometers, self-assemble around objects on a glass substrate.

A simple light source, such as a light-emitting diode (LED), is then used to illuminate the nano-lens object assembly. By utilizing a silicon-based sensor array, which is also found in cell-phone cameras, lens-free holograms of the nanoparticles are detected. The holograms are then rapidly reconstructed with the help of a personal computer to detect single nanoparticles on a glass substrate.

The researchers have used the new technique to create images of single polystyrene nanoparticles, as well as adenoviruses and H1N1 influenza viral particles.

While the technique does not offer the high resolution of electron microscopy, it has a much wider field of view — more than 20 square millimeters — and can be helpful in finding nanoscale objects in samples that are sparsely populated.

Here a citation for and a link to the research article,

Wide-field optical detection of nanoparticles using on-chip microscopy and self-assembled nanolenses by Onur Mudanyali, Euan McLeod, Wei Luo, Alon Greenbaum, Ahmet F. Coskun, Yves Hennequin, Cédric P. Allier, & Aydogan Ozcan. Nature Photonics (2013) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2012.337 Published online: 20 January 2013

The article is behind a paywall.

It really is a nanoscale window into the biological world

The researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTC Research Institute) have sandwiched together a couple of chips, each with a hole (window) in the middle giving themselves a peek into biological processes as they occur, they hope. Here’s a more technical explanation from the Dec. 20, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

Investigators at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have invented a way to directly image biological structures at their most fundamental level and in their natural habitats. The technique is a major advancement toward the ultimate goal of imaging biological processes in action at the atomic level.

The technique involves taking two silicon-nitride microchips with windows etched in their centers and pressing them together until only a 150-nanometer space between them remains. The researchers then fill this pocket with a liquid resembling the natural environment of the biological structure to be imaged, creating a microfluidic chamber.

Then, because free-floating structures yield images with poor resolution, the researchers coat the microchip’s interior surface with a layer of natural biological tethers, such as antibodies, which naturally grab onto a virus and hold it in place.

The lead researcher describes the difference between the usual imaging techniques and their newly developed technique (from the EurekAlert news release),

“It’s sort of like the difference between seeing Han Solo frozen in carbonite and watching him walk around blasting stormtroopers,” said Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the VTC Research Institute and a lead author on the paper describing the first successful test of the new technique. “Seeing viruses, for example, in action in their natural environment is invaluable.”

Ken Kingery’s Dec. ??, 2012 Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute article, which originated the news release, describes the specific virus the researchers used the ‘window’ to spy on,

Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and children. By the age of five, nearly every child in the world has been infected at least once. And although the disease tends to be easily managed in the developed world, in developing countries rotavirus kills more than 450,000 children a year.

At the second step in the pathogen’s life cycle, rotavirus sheds its outer layer, which allows it to enter a cell, and becomes what is called a double-layered particle. Once its second layer is exposed, the virus is ready to begin using the cell’s own infrastructure to produce more viruses. It was the viral structure at this stage that the researchers imaged in the new study.

Kelly and McDonald [Sarah McDonald, an assistant professor at the VTC Research Institute] coated the interior window of the microchip with antibodies to the virus. The antibodies, in turn, latched onto the rotaviruses that were injected into the microfluidic chamber and held them in place. The researchers then used a transmission electron microscope to image the prepared slide.

The technique worked perfectly.

The experiment gave results that resembled those achieved using traditional freezing methods to prepare rotavirus for electron microscopy, proving that the new technique can deliver accurate results. “It’s the first time scientists have imaged anything on this scale in liquid,” said Kelly.

There’s more to work to be done of course as the researchers refine the technique and try to ‘spy’ on more of the processes. In the meantime, the paper about this latest imaging research will be published in print in 2013 or it can be viewed online now (this is a open access article in a journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry [RSC], you will need to sign up but this too is free),

Visualizing viral assemblies in a nanoscale biosphere
Brian L. Gilmore ,  Shannon P. Showalter ,  Madeline J. Dukes ,  Justin R. Tanner ,  Andrew C. Demmert ,  Sarah M. McDonald and Deborah F. Kelly

Lab Chip, 2013,13, 216-219

DOI: 10.1039/C2LC41008G Received 15 Jun 2012, Accepted 13 Nov 2012 First published on the web 19 Nov 201

 

All about the University of Calgary and its microscopy and imaging facility

A July 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk features the the equipment and capabilities of …

The Calgary Microscopy and Imaging Facility (MIF) is a world-class university-wide facility housing transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), advanced light microscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM), including single cell force spectroscopy (SCFS), and advanced image processing for three-dimensional electron and light microscopy, directed by Professor Matthias Amrein.

Single cell force spectroscopy at the MIF has now attracted high profile research with three NanoWizard® AFM systems from JPK [Instruments], one of which is equipped with the CellHesion® module. Describing the work of the Calgary group, Professor Amrein says “While we do some work for the energy sector (to predict behaviour of nanoparticles injected into oil reservoirs) our main focus is medicine. We delve into very fundamental problems such as “how does a malaria red blood cell attach itself to a blood vessel” or “how does binding of a ligand to a cell surface receptor or contact of a crystalline surface with the plasma membrane drive lipid sorting and how will this lead to signalling” but then immediately apply it to a practical problem such as “how does contact of uric acid crystals with dendritic cells cause gout in affected joints and how can we prevent this occurrence?” We want to understand disease processes at a very fundamental level so we know how to intervene in the best possible way. For example, a chronic inflammatory disease such as gout or arteriosclerosis may be triggered by a very specific interaction of a particle (uric acid crystals, cholesterol crystals, amyloid plaque, …. ) and specific cell (dendritic cell, macrophage, T-cell, …). Understanding this interaction will lead to targeted treatment “block the interaction” rather than the non-specific dampening of inflammation such as by corticosteroids with its many well-documented side effects and limited efficacy.”

It’s always nice to get some information about activities in microscopy, etc. in Canada although I’m not sure what occasioned the news item/release.

Extreme optical imaging at Griffith University (Australia) reveals a single atom’s shadow

The July 3, 2012 news item on Nanowerk provides a rather intriguing opening line and image,

A pixelated image of a black spot on an orange background isn’t likely to win any photographic competitions.

But the seemingly bland image, taken by scientists at Queensland’s Griffith University, could potentially revolutionise mankind’s understanding of physics and how the world works.

Artist’s illustration of a single atom shadow. (Image: Kielpinski group, Griffith University)

On checking, I found the following image, which helped clarify for me the shadow’s location,  alongside Helen Wright’s July 3, 2012 news item for Griffith University.

In an international scientific breakthrough, a Griffith University research team has been able to photograph the shadow of a single atom for the first time. (from Griffith University)

Here’s more from Wright news item,

“We have reached the extreme limit of microscopy; you cannot see anything smaller than an atom using visible light,” Professor Dave Kielpinski of Griffith University’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics in Brisbane.

“We wanted to investigate how few atoms are required to cast a shadow and we proved it takes just one,” Professor Kielpinski said.

I was quite interested in the description of the process that Wright provides,

At the heart of this Griffith University achievement is a super high-resolution microscope, which makes the shadow dark enough to see. No other facility in the world has the capability for such extreme optical imaging.

Holding an atom still long enough to take its photo, while remarkable in itself, is not new technology; the atom is isolated within a chamber and held in free space by electrical forces.

Professor Kielpinski and his colleagues trapped single atomic ions of the element ytterbium and exposed them to a specific frequency of light. Under this light the atom’s shadow was cast onto a detector, and a digital camera was then able to capture the image.

“By using the ultra hi-res microscope we were able to concentrate the image down to a smaller area than has been achieved before, creating a darker image which is easier to see,” Professor Kielpinski said.

The precision involved in this process is almost beyond imagining.

“If we change the frequency of the light we shine on the atom by just one part in a billion, the image can no longer be seen,” Professor Kielpinski said.

This work opens up some new possibilities too,

Research team member, Dr Erik Streed, said the implications of these findings are far reaching.

“Such experiments help confirm our understanding of atomic physics and may be useful for quantum computing,” Dr Streed said.

There are also potential follow-on benefits for biomicroscopy.

“Because we are able to predict how dark a single atom should be, as in how much light it should absorb in forming a shadow, we can measure if the microscope is achieving the maximum contrast allowed by physics.”

“This is important if you want to look at very small and fragile biological samples such as DNA strands where exposure to too much UV light or x-rays will harm the material.

“We can now predict how much light is needed to observe processes within cells, under optimum microscopy conditions, without crossing the threshold and destroying them.”

And this may get biologists thinking about things in a different way.

FEI/National Geographic image contest: Explore the Unseen

It’s not unusual to see contests for the best ‘nanoimage’ but this one offers some special prizes including exposure (pun intended)  in a National Geographic project on nanotechnology. From the June 27, 2012 news item on Azonano,

FEI is excited to announce this year’s FEI Image Contest, “Explore the Unseen” and invites owners and users to submit their best nano-scale images online at fei.com. This year FEI are pleased to partner with National Geographic on a film tentatively titled “Invisible Worlds”.

Winning images will be posted on National Geographic’s website and all images will be considered for inclusion in the film’s promotional materials.

Inspired by the upcoming film, the FEI Image Contest offers owners and users an opportunity to explore their creativity and share their images with National Geographic’s worldwide audience.

I was a little curious about FEI and found it’s a microscopy company, from their About FEI page,

FEI  is the world leader in the production and distribution of electron microscopes, including scanning electron microscopes (SEM), transmission electron microscopes (TEM), DualBeam™­ instruments, and focused ion beam tools (FIB), for nanoscale research, serving a broad range of customers worldwide. Nanotechnology is the science of finding, characterizing, analyzing and fabri­cating materials smaller than 100 nano­meters (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter). FEI’s global customer base includes researchers, scientists, engineers, lab managers, and other skilled professionals.

Here’s more about the contest from the FEI’s 2012 contest page,

Contest Benefits

What’s in it for you?

All images submitted will be considered for inclusion in the National Geographic film promotional materials. This may include a companion game, book, education guide and poster.

Monthly Category Prizes

Everyone who enters will have the opportunity to win one of four monthly prizes. Prizes will be awarded in the following categories: The Human Body, Around the House, The Natural World, and Other Relevant Science. Monthly winners will receive a custom 24 x 24 inch bamboo mounted print of their image to put on display.

Plus, the four winning images will be posted to the Nat Geo Movies section of their website and Facebook page.

Grand Prize

At the conclusion of the contest, a grand prize will be awarded for the best image received from the monthly category winners. The grand prize is two coach class tickets to a United States destination of the winners choosing.

In addition, the winning image will be part of a special photo gallery promoting the film “Invisible Worlds”.

Here are more details about the individual categories,

Image Categories

This year, we’ve chosen image categories with broad audience appeal. The following examples, while not an exhaustive list, provide an idea of what we’re looking for:

The Natural World:

  • Insect parts – wings, eyes, etc. (ideal insects include moth, ladybug, fly, dragonfly, butterfly, cicada, cricket, etc.)
  • Spider silk / webs
  • Pollen, allergens, leaves, tree slime, fungus, bacteria & mold
  • Micro-invertebrates seen in water-quality testing
  • Plants, flowers, blades of grass
  • Rock, minerals, sand, etc.
  • Ice/snow/snowflakes, other crystals, raindrops
  • Close-up of animals or animal parts: dog, cat, bird, fish (pets a kid would own)

The Human Body:

  • Insects that live on your body (eyebrows, lashes, etc.) lice, bacteria
  • Body parts: bone (including fractures/breaks), human hair, skin flakes
  • Bodily fluids: snot, sweat, blood, saliva, tears, etc
  • Hands (finger, skin) before and after washing
  • Viruses
  • Endoplasmic reticulum, cell walls, etc
  • What a tattoo looks like under the skin

Around the House:

  • Things you would find in a kids room: t-shirt fibers, stuff on the soles of dirty shoes, dust mites, carpet fibers, hair inside of a baseball cap, sloughed skin, dust, pencil lead, crayons
  • Food: ice cream, candy, bread, french fries, apples, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
  • Creatures that live on the mouthpiece of a phone, in the kitchen sink
  • Tires, cars, bikes, toys
  • Lint from clothing
  • The inside workings of a clock, computer, smartphone or TV
  • Gems and jewels: rubies, diamonds, other gems
  • Sports equipment: baseball, basketball, soccer ball, bathing suit, etc.

Other Relevant Science:

Do your best images not fit into the categories above? Are you interested in sharing what you’re working on today? Whether you are investigating advanced materials, working to understand complex chemical reactions, or researching the 3D architecture of tissues and cells, this is the category for submitting your best work.

Here’s FEI’s 2011 winning image (from FEI”s 2011 Owner Image Contest Winner announcement page),

Microcanyon: a micro-crack in steel after bending tests Credit: Martina Dienstleder of the Institute for Electron Microscopy at the Graz University of Technology

The reasons it was selected as the ‘grand’ prize winner (from FEI”s 2011 Owner Image Contest Winner announcement page) were,

Overall, the entries were judged on their aesthetic appeal, application and scientific relevance, and overall creativity.

Given that there is mention of a micro-crack and the grand prize winner is titled Microcanyon, I’m assuming last year’s theme was less specific than this year’s invitation to submit ‘nanoscale’ inflected images.

Given there are monthly winners I assume there are monthly deadlines but I couldn’t find them on the FEI contest webpage however, the  final deadline for submissions is Sept. 14, 2012.

Good luck to the 2012 entrants.