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New Nanobead-Powered 'Superlens' Extends Limits Of Details Under A Microscope

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International scientists have achieved an incredible feat that may change microscopic research forever.

Using a powerful new "superlens," researchers from Bangor and Fudan University observed extremely intricate details etched on the surface grooves of a Blu-ray disc.

The superlens is made up of nanobeads — a ubiquitous material used frequently in products such as sunscreen and white paint — and can view details five times the magnification of a normal microscope.

In fact, if scientists used an ordinary microscope, seeing the intricate details on the Blu-ray disc would have been rendered impossible.

Strength Of The Superlens

The surfaces of Blu-ray discs are not as smooth as they appear, but existing microscopes cannot reach into the grooves that contain data.

Now, in the new study, experts illustrated the power of the nanobead-powered superlens to reveal even the minutest detail on the disk.

Led by Zengbo Wang of Bangor University and Limin Wu of Fudan University, researchers created tiny droplet-like lens structures and scattered millions of them on the Blu-ray surface.

Wang says high-index titanium dioxide (TiO2) was applied to build the lens. The nanobead structures act as additional lenses to magnify the surface that was previously invisible to current microscopes.

More specifically, the nanobeads break up the light to refract small, individual beams. Together, the assortment of nanobeads multiply the microscope's magnification five times.

Wang says the nanobeads can bend light to a higher degree than water.

For instance, when you put a spoon into a cup of this material, you would be able to see a larger bend where the spoon enters the material, compared to when you look at the same spoon in a glass of water, he says.

Each nanobead, which is about 15 nanometers wide, bends the light to a high magnitude, splitting the light beam to create millions of individual beams.

"It is these tiny light beams which enable us to view previously unseen detail," says Wang.

The "El Dorado" Of Research

Extending the limits of microscopes' resolution is considered as the El Dorado of scientific research. Laws of light make it almost impossible to look at objects smaller than 200 nm, which is the smallest size of bacteria.

But with the emergence of the superlens, almost anything is possible. Scientists say it could potentially help zero in on germs that are too small for traditional microscopes to spot.

One advantage of the superlens is that the TiO2 used to create nanobeads is cheap and readily available. Wang says the results of their study can be replicated and that other laboratories may soon conduct their own research and adapt the technology.

What's more, the superlens can be applied to whatever object the researcher wants to view, which means that experts need not buy a new microscope.

Details of the new report are featured in the journal Science Advances.

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