IBM gets nano-view with new super microscope

With 100M times the resolution of an MRI, microscope pushes medical research.

Scientists at IBM have built a microscope that they say has 100 million times the display resolution of MRI machines used in hospitals.

The new microscope is designed to study complex 3D structures at the atomic level. Scientists say they're hoping the microscope could help researchers who are investigating diseases and creating new medications.

"This technology stands to revolutionize the way we look at viruses, bacteria, proteins, and other biological elements," said IBM Fellow Mark Dean, vice president of strategy and operations for IBM Research, in a statement.

A year ago, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced that scientists had begun using the world's most powerful microscope -- a 12-foot-tall electron microscope that officials said enables researchers to see 3-D images of atomic structures. The Electron Aberration-corrected Microscope lets scientists see smaller objects than is possible with a traditional light microscope, according to Peter Denes, director of the microscope project at the Berkeley-based lab.

IBM noted that the resolution of its latest microscope was enabled by a technique called magnetic resonance force microscopy (MFRM), which relies on detecting ultrasmall magnetic forces. The technology boasts high resolution imaging but also can give scientists a view of the object below the surface. It's also reportedly isn't destructive to sensitive biological materials.

IBM said its team, which worked with the Center for Probing the Nanoscale at Stanford University, boosted the sensitivity of MRFM and then combined it with an advanced 3D image reconstruction technique.

"MRI is well known as a powerful tool for medical imaging, but its capability for microscopy has always been very limited," said Dan Rugar, manager of nanoscale studies at IBM Research, in a statement. "Our hope is that nano MRI will eventually allow us to directly image the internal structure of individual protein molecules and molecular complexes, which is key to understanding biological function."

Last July, researchers at the California Institute of Technology announced that they had developed a high-resolution microscope that is small enough to sit on a computer chip.

The device, dubbed the optofluidic microscope, has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope and is designed so scientists can use it in the field to analyze blood samples for malaria or to check water supplies for pathogens.

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