Since Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of bacteria through a microscope in the late seventeenth century, humans have been fascinated by the world of the infinitesimally small. However, traditional optical methods have physical limitations when it comes to examining objects closely. This is known as the diffraction limit, which is determined by the wave nature of light. The diffraction limit states that a focused image can never be smaller than half the wavelength of light used for observation. Despite attempts to break this limit with “super lenses,” previous efforts have faced challenges such as extreme visual losses and opacity. Nonetheless, physicists from the University of Sydney have recently unveiled a groundbreaking solution that surpasses the diffraction limit by nearly four times while minimizing losses. This new approach eliminates the need for a super lens entirely, opening up opportunities for advancements in super-resolution microscopy and various fields such as cancer diagnostics, medical imaging, archaeology, and forensics.
The key to the University of Sydney’s success lies in their departure from traditional super lens methods. Instead, they placed the light probe far away from the object and collected both high- and low-resolution information. By distancing the probe, the researchers were able to avoid interference with the high-resolution data, a limitation faced by previous methods. Unlike previous attempts that focused on developing novel materials for super lenses, the researchers performed the superlens operation as a post-processing step on a computer after the measurement itself. This approach selectively amplifies evanescent (or vanishing) light waves, resulting in a “truthful” image of the object.
The implications of this breakthrough are vast. One area expected to benefit is the field of super-resolution microscopy. The newfound ability to achieve high-resolution images at a safe distance without distortion is highly desirable for studying biological samples, such as protein structures and hydration dynamics. Additionally, improved superlensing techniques could enhance cancer imaging, moisture content determination in leaves, and microchip integrity assessment.
Beyond the realm of scientific research, the technique could be instrumental in uncovering art forgery or hidden works. By revealing hidden layers in artwork, art historians and conservationists can gain valuable insights into the authenticity and history of an artwork.
In previous attempts at superlensing, the focus was often on capturing high-resolution information up close. However, this approach faces the challenge of exponential data decay with distance, quickly being overwhelmed by low-resolution data that decays less rapidly. The University of Sydney’s breakthrough approach overcomes this limitation by moving the probe further away from the object, maintaining the integrity of the high-resolution information. The low-resolution data can then be filtered out using a post-observation technique. This novel approach strikes a balance between preserving image quality and capturing comprehensive data.
The research conducted by the University of Sydney utilized light at terahertz frequency with a millimeter wavelength, which falls within the spectrum between visible and microwave. While this frequency range poses challenges, it also offers exciting possibilities. It has the potential to provide critical information about biological samples, including protein structure, hydration dynamics, and cancer imaging.
The breakthrough achieved by the physicists at the University of Sydney paves the way for enhanced superlensing capabilities. By eliminating the need for a super lens and focusing instead on post-processing techniques, the researchers have surpassed the diffraction limit by nearly four times while minimizing visual losses. This breakthrough opens up new frontiers in super-resolution microscopy and has applications in various fields, including cancer diagnostics, medical imaging, archaeology, forensics, and art restoration. Moving forward, further advancements in frequency ranges and refinement of the technique will undoubtedly lead to even more profound breakthroughs in the world of high-resolution imaging.