February 28, 2010

Seeing Science: Confocal microscope reveals vivid detail

Posted: Feb 28, 2010 | 5 min 18 sec

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first article in an ASU feature series that will highlight the tools of the trade scientists use in their quest for new discoveries.

Scientists probe the mysteries of the natural world across an astonishing range of dimensions, from the subatomic domain of quarks and leptons to walls or sheets of supercluster galaxies known as filaments – gargantuan structures measuring over a billion light years across.

Cells and other features of the living microworld figure between these extremes. Their domain was first brought into focus when investigators in antiquity began to develop an ever-expanding toolkit to assist their observations.

Among the powerful techniques available to modern researchers is the laser confocal scanning microscope. One such instrument can be found at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, where it is used extensively for imaging varied biological specimens. The Institute’s Zeiss Duo Scanning Laser Microscope is overseen by Doug Daniel, who also assists with other sophisticated optical instruments used for Institute research.

Confocal is a form of fluorescence microscopy, in which the molecules of the material under study are rendered into an excited state by means of high-intensity light. In response to this excitation, the sample will emit light of longer wavelength – this is the fluorescence that will form the image. A small aperture or pinhole a few tens of microns in diameter, located in the detection pathway, acts to reject of any out-of-focus light, ensuring that the final image will reveal the specimen in vivid detail. This differs from conventional light microscopy in which images are a composite of both in focus and out of focus signals.

One of the critical features of confocal microscopy is its ability to image successive layers through a specimen. These slices can then be reassembled by computer into highly detailed 3-D images. Many post-imaging techniques can also be applied, Daniel said, which can reveal delicate details that would otherwise be lost.

The popularity of confocal microscopy in biology and clinical medicine has grown significantly in recent years, thanks to the instrument’s ability to easily produce stunningly detailed images, with minimal sample preparation. By comparing normal cells with those associated with diseases such as cancer, diabetes or Alzheimer’s, scientists have made progress in identifying internal cellular components that may go awry during the transition to a diseased state.

Neuronal images in the slideshow were produced by Dr. Page Baluch from the School of Life Sciences Keck Bioimaging Laboratory.  


Written by Richard Harth
Biodesign Institute science writer
richard.harth@asu.edu

Video Archive

Jul 11, 2011 | 2 min 57 sec
robot camp
Jul 08, 2011 | 1 min 42 sec
dust storm
Jul 06, 2011 | 3 min 53 sec
dust storm
Jul 05, 2011 | 1 min 20 sec
Pi versus Tau, which is better?
Jun 29, 2011 | 4 min 04 sec
Jun 17, 2011 | 2 min 40 sec
Screen_shot_2010-05-18_at_11.33.14_AM.png
May 18, 2010 | 10 min 30 sec
Screen_shot_2010-05-18_at_11.24.07_AM.png
May 18, 2010 | 7 min 07 sec
Screen_shot_2010-05-18_at_11.19.08_AM.png
May 18, 2010 | 6 min 48 sec
Screen_shot_2010-05-18_at_11.14.05_AM.png
May 18, 2010 | 2 min 30 sec
May 17, 2010 | 2 min 07 sec
Screen_shot_2010-05-18_at_11.03.59_AM.png
May 17, 2010 | 1 min 17 sec
ASU professor and student looking at computer screen
Feb 13, 2014 | 3 min 6 sec
immigration forum
Apr 25, 2013 | 89 min 41 sec
Rebecca Tsosie
Feb 07, 2013 | 3 min 29 sec
Sudhir Kumar
Feb 07, 2013 | 3 min 10 sec
Ron Adrian
Feb 07, 2013 | 3 min 22 sec
ASU Discovers
Oct 24, 2012 | 24 min 19 sec
Paul Davies
Feb 20, 2012 | 53 min 49 sec
Feb 17, 2012 | 3 min 09 sec
Feb 17, 2012 | 3 min 11 sec
Feb 17, 2012 | 3 min 28 sec
Feb 17, 2012 | 3 min 14 sec
Feb 17, 2012 | 3 min 19 sec
Sports concussions
Mar 01, 2011 | 9 min 43 sec
Baseball beats Delaware in series
Feb 28, 2011 | 1 min 22 sec
Why we need research
Feb 28, 2011 | 2 min 12 sec
Regents' Professor: Sally Kitch
Feb 25, 2011 | 4 min 12 sec
Comedy writing class studies science of laughter
Feb 24, 2011 | 4 min 36 sec
Zautra talks about chronic pain
Feb 24, 2011 | 4 min 05 sec
Buikstra_Jane_5029.jpg
Feb 11, 2010 | 2 min 53 sec
Jim_Elser_2033.JPG
Feb 11, 2010 | 2 min 48 sec
Rittmann_Bruce_1775a.jpg
Feb 11, 2010 | 2 min 45 sec
Saks_Michael_crop_0.jpg
Feb 11, 2010 | 2 min 51 sec
Schroder_Dieter_3334a.jpg
Feb 11, 2010 | 2 min 52 sec
thumbs.jpg
Feb 10, 2010 | 2 min 12 sec
20080915carpenter4.jpg
Sep 14, 2008 | 7 min 30 sec
20080915_Erickson4.jpg
Sep 14, 2008 | 15 min 57 sec
memorial union welcome.jpg
Sep 10, 2008 | 1 min 33 sec
carpenter.jpg
Sep 09, 2008 | 10 min 35 sec
Erickson.Dennis_0207.jpg
Sep 09, 2008 | 12 min 39 sec
carpenter.jpg
Sep 02, 2008 | 8 min 7 sec