Single lens produces 3D microscopic imagesPublished On: Tue, Mar 22nd, 2011 | Physics | By BioNews
A lens that enables microscopic objects to be seen from nine different angles at once to create a 3D image has been invented by engineers at the Ohio State University.
The new lens is the first single, stationary lens to create microscopic 3D images by itself.
Allen Yi, associate professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State, and postdoctoral researcher Lei Li, called the lens a proof of concept for manufacturers of microelectronics and medical devices, who currently use very complex machinery to view the tiny components that they assemble.
The prototype lens, which is about the size of a fingernail, looks at first glance like a gem cut for a ring, with a flat top surrounded by eight facets. But while gemstones are cut for symmetry, this lens is not symmetric. The sizes and angles of the facets vary in minute ways that are hard to see with the naked eye.
“No matter which direction you look at this lens, you see a different shape,” Yi explained.
Such a lens is called a “freeform lens,” a type of freeform optics.
Then Yi and Li used a commercially available milling tool with a diamond blade to cut the shape from a piece of the common thermoplastic material polymethyl methacrylate, a transparent plastic that is sometimes called acrylic glass. The machine shaved bits of plastic from the lens in increments of 10 nanometers, or 10 billionths of a meter – a distance about 5,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
The final lens resembled a rhinestone, with a faceted top and a wide, flat bottom. They installed the lens on a microscope with a camera looking down through the faceted side, and centered tiny objects beneath the flat side.
Each facet captured an image of the objects from a different angle, which can be combined on a computer into a 3D image.
The engineers successfully recorded 3D images of the tip of a ballpoint pen – which has a diameter of about 1 millimeter – and a mini drill bit with a diameter of 0.2 millimeters.
“Using our lens is basically like putting several microscopes into one microscope,” said Li.
“For us, the most attractive part of this project is we will be able to see the real shape of micro-samples instead of just a two-dimensional projection,” added Li.
The lens has been described in the Journal of the Optical Society of America A.