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Super-resolution and origami microscopes scoop R&D 100 awards

14 Jul 2014

Optics and photonics technology to the fore once again, accounting for 16 of the influential magazine's 100 leading innovations.

Super-resolution microscopes from Carl Zeiss and Leica Microsystems are among more than a dozen optics and photonics innovations to win one of this year’s R&D 100 Awards.

Intended to recognize the 100 “most technologically significant products” introduced over the past year, the list also includes an all-fiber isolator from AdValue Photonics, an optical coherence tomography (OCT) diagnostic endoscope developed by NinePoint Medical, and a lunar laser communication system co-developed by NASA and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

In the microscopy sector, the R&D Magazine judging panel selected several winners, with Zeiss noted for the latest incarnation of its photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM) technology. Launched at the annual meeting of the Society for Neurosience last November, the “ELYRA” module produces images with a lateral resolution as small as 20 nm – way beyond Ernst Abbe’s classical optical diffraction limit.

Leica Microsystems’ super-resolution imaging hardware, developed through a collaboration with Stefan Hell and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, relies on the stimulated emission depletion (STED) technique. It uses sequential excitation and quenching of fluorescent molecules to go beyond the normal limits of microscopy.

Launched in May this year at the European Light Microscopy Initiative (ELMI) meeting held in Oslo, Norway, Leica’s latest “TCS SP8 STED 3X” version of the technology can deliver sub-30 nm resolution thanks in part to a pulsed 775 nm wavelength pulsed laser source.

Those aren’t the only microscopy techniques to win accolades from the judges this year. Also recognized are a thermal microscope from Applied Nanostructures, a three-dimensional “macroscope” from Keyence, Yokohama’s new optical scanning probe microscope and the intriguing “Foldscope” developed at Stanford University.

Emerging from Manu Prakash's research group, the Foldscope is a radical approach to microscopy that is based on origami. Printed and folded from a single sheet of paper, and costing less than a dollar in parts, the Foldscope is said to yield a magnification of more than 2000x, along with a resolution of 800 nm.

"[Foldscope] weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), is small enough to fit in a pocket (70×20×2 mm3), requires no external power, and can survive being dropped from a three-storey building or stepped on by a person," claim the developers.

Listed below are the 16 photonics-related technologies to win an R&D 100 Award this year. For the full list of winners, click here.

• AdValue Photonics; All-Fiber Isolator
• Applied NanoStructures Inc. (AppNano); Vertisense Scanning Thermal Microscopy Module
• Argonne National Laboratory; SIS Lithography
• Bruker Nano Surfaces; LumiMap
• Carl Zeiss Microscopy LLC; ELYRA P.1 with 3D PALM
• Crystal Solar Inc; Direct Gas to Wafer Epitaxial System
• KEYENCE Corp; VR-3000 Series One-shot 3-D Measurement Macroscope
• Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Convergent Polishing: Rapid, Simple, Low Cost Finishing of High Quality Glass Optics
• Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/ Lockheed Martin Laser and Sensor Systems; Extreme-power Ultra-low-loss Dispersive Element (EXUDE)
• Leica Microsystems CMS GmbH/Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry; Leica TCS SP8 STED 3X
• MIT Lincoln Laboratory/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Lunar Laser Communication System (LLCS)
• NinePoint Medical/Farm Design Inc; NinePoint Medical NvisionVLE Imaging System
• OSRAM GmbH; ITOS PHASER 3000 Light Module
• Stanford University; Foldscope
• Thermo Fisher Scientific; Thermo Scientific Delta Ray Isotope Ratio Infrared Spectrometer
• Yokohama Research Laboratory, Hitachi Ltd; Plasmon-Excitation Optical Scanning Probe Microscope (Optical SPM)

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