Organic samples can now be studied in its undamaged state, thanks to a microscope developed by Australian researchers.
University of Newcastle School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences Professor Paul Dastoor has been developing the world's first scanning helium microscope (SHeM) for more than 10 years. The said breakthrough microscope is believed to open more opportunities for scientific study because it can examine animal, plant and human samples without altering them.
Dastoor led the team of researchers from the University of Newcastle and worked with University of Cambridge scientists to develop the prototype.
In the past, studying samples under traditional microscopes required light, which damages the material. In this new microscope, neutral helium atoms are used to backscatter from the external electronic configuration of the sample. This way, the samples can be studied in its organic state.
Dastoor said that helium microscope would be beneficial across several disciplines. He believes that every new microscope developed gives scientists new discoveries. Recently, a newly developed underwater fluorescence microscope allowed experts to detect outbreaks of algae.
With SHeM, scientists will now have the opportunity to see smaller samples in greater detail.
"The medical and pharmaceutical applications are very exciting," said Dastoor.
For instance, we've already been able to clearly see the actual structure of a membrane because the helium microscope gives details not previously available," he said.
Parasites, bacteria and cell cultures can now be studied in greater detail without being subjected to harmful degradation that changes its properties.
Major industries including defense, information technology, solar energy and explosives will definitely find uses of the SHeM.
He went on to say that the microscope will be useful in developing techniques of how carbon monoxide can be removed from exhaust gases. Dastoor added that radioactive spill cleanup could now be carried out without harming the plants and animals in the area.
Since explosives cannot be examined under a microscope that uses an energetic beam, Dastoor shared that it will be no surprise if defense experts will use his technology in the future. SHeM would be advantageous in developing new explosives and stealth technology.
Using the SHeM, it is now possible to observe electrical circuitry in an object, allowing researchers to see whether current is flowing or not.
The team is now planning to work on a smaller version of the SHeM that would eventually be able to get a chemical fingerprint of several materials.
The research was earlier published in Nature Communications.