Unlike the world of sports, where substances used to improve performance are the subject of scandal and controversy, in the realm of engineering, performance-enhancing products are highly sought after and prized by all for their marvelous effects. The technologies behind biophotonics often come in the form of vibration control structures, nano-positioning systems and software.
An example of this was evident in this summer's mass media report of a celebrity-powered bio-optics breakthrough. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was the name everyone recognized behind the discovery that enabled optical microscopy resolution to reach sub-nanometer levels. The lesser known "stars" behind the development, listed under the Methods description at the end of the Nature-published paper describing the work, are technologies integral to the active feedback system credited with making the advance possible. "We have developed an active feedback system that allows us to place the image of a single fluorescent molecule anywhere on the CCD array with sub-pixel precision, which in turn enables us to work in a region smaller than the typical three pixel length-scale of the CCD non-uniformity [which limited resolution in the past]," says Alexandros Pertsinidis, lead author on the paper.
So in the Nature paper, following the list of optics and photonics equipment (including the Olympus microscope; light sources by Crystalaser, Thorlabs and Coherent; mirrors and lenses by Nikon, Chroma and Omega; and a CCD by Andor), you'll find these key components: "A pair of homemade piezoelectric tip-tilt flexure mirror mounts" (devised to enable independent adjustment of each color image on the CCD), and "a three-axis closed-loop piezoelectric stage (Physik Instrumente, 561-3DD) equipped with capacitive position sensors" (to control the position of the sample on the microscope stage). The paper also mentions that, "The stage was calibrated in the factory to subnanometre accuracy with a laser interferometer and the nonlinearity of the capacitive sensors was corrected to 0.01% with a digital controller (Physik Instrumente, E-710)."
That's the hardware story–but the achievement also depended upon software: "The data acquisition and instrument control was performed with software written in LABVIEW (National Instruments). Off-line data analysis was performed in IDL (ITT Visual Information Solutions, versions 6.0-6.4)," the researchers report.
Another example of performance-enhancing technology can be seen on this issue's cover. In this case, Media Cybernetics' Image-Pro Plus software, aided by the company's Live EDF (extended depth of field) plug-in, enabled researchers to collect information from various z-planes and simultaneously view them all. (See the full story in this issue's installment of Inside Instrumentation, pp. 30-31.)
Getting even more performance from incredible bio-optics and photonics. Now, isn't that the bee's knees.
Editor in Chief