Sci/Tech Nanotechnology: Nanoscope peers beyond the limits of light

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The power of light microscopes to resolve fine details has just doubled. A new technique can distinguish tiny structures inside cells, in colour and 3D, even if they are only 100 nanometres apart.

"We have opened a door to a whole new world of structures that you could not see and study before," says Heinrich Leonhardt of the Center for Integrated Protein Science at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

The resolution achievable with light microscopy – the diffraction limit – is normally restricted to about half the wavelength of visible light, around 200 nanometres. If two objects are closer together than this, they cannot be distinguished from each other and appear as one structure.

Electron microscopy, which uses much shorter wavelengths, can visualise smaller details, but is limited to black and white images and thin or very small specimens.

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