Brendan O'Shaughnessy | October 21, 2019
During his postdoctoral research, Notre Dame electrical engineer Scott Howard wanted to produce more precise images of the activity within a cell by increasing the power of the microscope’s laser.
When he experimented with different power levels, he discovered that his computer was receiving an extra copy of image data.
“When you push the lasers up too high, it would scramble the data because the different parts inside the cell get saturated and can’t absorb any more light,” Howard said. “But I was getting this extra copy that I called a ‘ghost image.’”
So Howard sat down, did some mathematical calculations and realized that the physics predicted this ghost image would happen, and that it would be a higher resolution image. It was a rare moment of pure discovery. He could push the laser power up and down, moving it slightly and then comparing what the cell looks like at different power levels to learn more about what the microscope could see.
“We take the difference between the two images and use an algorithm to see the signals coming from the laser beam’s center point,” Howard said. “You can’t get the laser any smaller, but the data coming out acts as if it’s from a smaller area. It’s super-resolution data in 3D.”
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