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New Microscope Shows Cells Like Never Before [Video]

By Jonathan Moore staff@sciencetimes.com | Oct 24, 2014 03:08 PM EDT

Scientist Eric Betzig just won't quit. Weeks after being awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing new techniques for enhancing microscopic viewing technology, he has apparently moved on to another breakthrough of equal or greater significance. 

Betzig, a researcher working at the Janelia Research Campus at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn Virginia, published a new study this week in the journal Science which claims that he and his team have created a new way for scientists to view cellular activity with never-before-seen clarity. 

Betzig's Nobel Prize awarded this year was for his work on the PALM microscope methodology, which he began work on when he encountered the limits of traditional microscopic technology. However, in his new study Betzig details his latest technique called lattice light-sheet microscopy, one he developed when he became frustrated with the limits of his award-winning work on PALM. 

"Again, I just started to understand the limits of the technology," Betzig explained. Apparently PALM takes great still photo graphs, but in order to truly understand cellular processes, Betzig felt an even better image capturing method was needed. 

Betzig likened using PALM to understanding cellular activity to using still photographs to understand the game of American football. He explained that while still photographs reveal details, how the game works can only be truly understood through observing video of the game, if you will. 

"I'd been looking at those pictures my whole life. It was time to take a look at the living stuff in action," said Betzig.

Lattice light-sheet microscopy reportedly achieves this higher rate of capture by creating a "sheet" of light that penetrates whatever is being observed from the side of the sample instead of from on top, like traditional microscopes. The reason this is bad is because the light used to observe cells damages them over time. Lattice light-sheet microscopy overcomes this problem, according to Betzig.

So far, scientists have displayed videos captured using this new methodology, and they are nothing short of stunning. Betzig believes that by viewing these processes with greater detail and clarity than ever before, researchers will have a better chance at finding cures for cancer or congenital issues that occur when human embryos are developing. 

Betzig isn't hoarding his new techniques either. He has already arranged for his new microscope to be built for another lab, and he hopes to do the same for as many labs as possible. 

"Every week we have new research groups coming in," explains Betzig, "and not to pat my own back too much, but I feel a bit like Galileo -- everywhere you point this thing, you're going to learn something new." 

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