Up ‘cell periscope’ and away!

March 9, 2009


We are so used to the wonders of technology these days that we are almost blasé about it, but if you had told me that a periscope might be a diagnostic tool I would have said you were kidding. Not so, because the world’s smallest version of the periscope is now being used to look at cells and other micro-organisms from several sides at once.

The magnification involved here is phenomenal and scientists from Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (who have invented it) are justly proud of their achievement. Standard laboratory microscopes can only see cells from above and this new 3D view is a major breakthrough. This ‘periscope’ is truly microscopic in size, with the walls being about the width of a human hair and – another breakthrough – they are inexpensive to produce, unlike other, more complex methods for 3D microscopy and could mean the end of the traditional laboratory microscope.

So far, the researchers have used the mirrored wells to examine how protozoa swim and cells divide as this method is particularly well suited for studying dynamic processes within cells because it can follow them in three dimensions.


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