Antique device makes microscope faster

November 26, 2001

As part of an NWO project, Utrecht researchers have adapted a spectrograph for use in fluorescence microscopes. They coupled the centuries old device to a computer, allowing them to zoom in and quickly scan a small area. The speed factor is important because many biological processes are over within a few seconds.

The spectrograph splits white light into separate colours and creates a high level of contrast. These are welcome effects for use in fluorescence microscopes. The Utrecht biophysicists expect that their spectrograph/computer combination can in future be used for research in medicine, biology, chemistry and physics.

The modern spectrograph is relatively simple. A glass fibre conducts the light from the microscope and through a triangular glass prism. The prism splits the light into its various component colours. A sensitive CCD camera collects the separate colours. An ordinary computer is then used to calculate what the original colours were like and makes slight differences in colour clearer.

What is so special about the Utrecht spectrograph is the use of a prism to disperse the light. Other groups of researchers who are constructing a spectrograph for use in fluorescence microscopes generally use lattices. The advantage of lattices is that they produce a sharper contrast than prisms. However, a prism is less subject to light losses, thus allowing it to produce a faster picture.

Biophysicists at Utrecht University have now tested the spectrograph in the course of research on proteins taken from muscle tissue. By using it, they were able to show that illumination led to unexpected chemical reactions.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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