Three researchers won a Nobel Prize for giving microscopes much sharper vision than was thought possible, letting scientists peer into living cells with unprecedented detail to seek the roots of disease. (Associated Press)
Use our resources to peer into “Mysteries of the Unseen World.”
Thanks to our “Mystery” educator, Elaine, who submitted our open-ended question below! What can you think to do with electron, tunneling, or fluorescence microscopes?
- The three scientists who won the Nobel Prize were recognized for their work in super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. (Learn more about that in this easy-to-read article from the Nobel Prize folks). Is super-resolved fluorescence microscopy the most high-resolution process available?
- No. A variety of electron microscopes, like those used to take the “Yuck Factor” images here, provide high-resolution images by using beams of electrons (not light) as a source of illumination. Scanning tunneling microscopes can image individual atoms using a conductor to scan the surface of an object. (Scanning tunneling microscopes can also be used to manipulate atoms—and make the world’s smallest movie, A Boy and his Atom.)
- Super-resolved fluorescence microscopy provides the highest-resolution visible microscopy. (Visible microscopy relies on light. Learn more about visible light here.)
- If super-resolved fluorescence microscopy doesn’t provide the most hi-res images, why is it so important?
- Super-resolved fluorescence microscopy can focus on living cells, a breathtaking achievement with implications for the study of diseases and how they develop. (Just take a super-resolved fluorescence microscopy look at the bone cancer above.)
- Take a look at our media spotlight “Human Body: Microscopic Images.” How do the sizes of the objects in this gallery measure up to the ones using super-resolved fluorescence microscopy?
- Our electron microscope images focus on much, much larger objects—even though they’re still microscopic! (Note: This isn’t because electron microscopes can’t give greater focus, it’s just that this gallery doesn’t.) For instance, the dazzling “blood clot” image in the “Human Body” gallery displays individual red and white blood cells. The image at the top of this page, on the other hand, shows the nucleus of a single cell, with individual molecules (proteins) in sharp relief. Or take a (super-resolved fluorescence microscopy) look at a this, a mitosis anaphase image every high school student knows by heart.
- Advanced imaging tools and techniques, including scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), now enable scientists and non-scientists to observe and better understand the micro and nano scales—opening up a world of tiny things and offering new challenges and opportunities. What can scientists discover and do with this technology that makes an impact on our lives and our world?
Washington Post: 3 win chemistry Nobel for super-zoom microscopes
NG collection: Mysteries of the Unseen World Education
Nobel Prize: How the optical microscope became a nanoscope
NG Media Spotlight: Visible Light
NG Media Spotlight: Human Body: Microscopic Images
Wikimedia: Dividing Cell Fluorescence; an image of a human cancer cell dividing