Butterfly wing under an electron microscope Photo: MIT and NSF

Butterfly wing under an electron microscope Photo: MIT, NSF

We had just put out a new issue of Quick Take focused on “Scope” (microscopes, horoscopes, big-picture-scopes) when I heard from the news office that researchers here at MIT are working to develop a new electron microscope that uses quantum mechanic measurement to get up close and personal with living cells—without damaging them.

According to the news office, the radiation dose received by a specimen during current electron microscope imaging is comparable to the irradiation from a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb exploded about 30 meters away.

Rather than bombarding the specimen with radiation, the proposed new microscope would use an electron to flow back and forth between two rings, one on top of the other. When a cell passes between the rings the microscope would scan the cell one pixel at a time, eventually combining all of the pixels into a complete image.

The new microscopes could help researchers obtain hard evidence on how living organisms function on an atomic level, and it could help them work with specimens too sensitive to use with conventional electron microscopy.

Below are a few electron microscope images from a lab at Dartmouth. Imagine what the new, ultra-high res images could look like…

Plant bug Image: Dartmouth

Plant bug. Image: Dartmouth

Nicotiana alata upper leaf surface, showing tricomes and stomates. Image: Dartmouth

Nicotiana alata upper leaf surface. Image: Dartmouth

Unacetolyzed pollen grain. Image: Dartmouth

Unacetolyzed pollen grain. Image: Dartmouth