From a Microscope to a Nanoscope

Super-Resolution STED Microscopy (Chemistry Nobel prize 2014)

In conventional microscopy the limit of the resolution is half of the wavelength of light.  For blue light this is 200 nm. This resolution limit was postulated by Ernst Abbe and for decades it was considered that this limit could not be overcome. The reason for this is based on the diffraction, which occurs at two clearly differentiated objects and makes both objects appear blurred together as one. Using the Stimulate Emission Depletion (STED) Method developed by Prof. Dr. Hell, MPI Göttingen, a higher resolution could be achieved which was far below the previously mentioned limit. The microscope becomes a nanoscope and alters long-standing conceptions about the resolving power in light microscopy. In this method a cell is excited by a diffraction-limited laser source. Immediately this cell is then overlaid by another laser source. This second laser has a special feature of having a hole in the middle, a so-called “doughnut-shaped” beam. The result is a prevention of the effective excitation of the cell, except in the focal spot that happens to be in the central area of the doughnut-shaped beam. The remaining spot circumference can be reduced to achieve a higher resolution.


(Image: piezosystem jena elements used for the super-resolution imaging of a neuronal cell in a living mouse brain.
Image courtesy of Dr. Katrin Willig, Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain, Göttingen; As well as Prof. Dr. Stefan W. Hell, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany)

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