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New ‘Superlens’ Goes Beyond What Microscopes See

Aug 15, 2016 07:33 AM EDT

A new "superlens" has enabled researchers to spot microorganisms that are too small for microscopes to see.

The superlens is made up of millions of titanium dioxide nanobeads. The beads, which are only about 15 nanometers wide, will be applied to the object the researcher wants to view. The same nanobeads are often used in sunscreen products and white paint, and are capable of magnifying an object five times the magnification of a regular microscope.

International scientists from Bangor University in Wales and Fudan University in China used this new superlens to observe extremely minute details etched on a Blu-ray disc, which would have been impossible to see using a normal microscope.

"Each sphere bends the light to a high magnitude and splits the light beam, creating millions of individual beams of light," Zengbo Wang of Bangor University, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "It is these tiny light beams which enable us to view previously unseen detail."

According to the scientists, the superlens can help increase the magnification of existing microscopes, and could also enable researchers to produce sharp images of objects that are 45 nanometers small.

"Our superlens can be used to visualize live viruses or germs that were previously invisible," Wang said in an interview with Live Science.

"This would allow researchers to study, for example, the interaction of medicines with live viruses in real time."

Scientists have been searching for ways to extend the limits of the classic microscope's resolution for over a century now. The laws of light had made it impossible for normal microscopes to clearly observe objects smaller than 200 nanometers, which is the smallest size of bacteria.

According to Wang, the results will be easily replicable and that other laboratories will soon begin to adopt the technology and use it for themselves.

One of the advantages of the technology is that titanium dioxide is cheaper and more readily available, compared with having to buy a new microscope.

"We have already viewed details to a far greater level than was previously possible. The next challenge is to adapt the technology for use in biology and medicine," Wang said.

"This would not require the current use of a combination of dyes and stains and laser light- which change the samples being viewed. The new lens will be used to see germs and viruses not previously visible."

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