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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Fingertip Microscope Can Peek Inside a Moving Animal

Technology Review
Sept 13, 2011

 An inexpensive microscope about the size of a gumdrop could allow scientists to peer into the inner workings of living, moving animals much more easily. The device is small and light enough—it weighs less than two grams—to be mounted atop a rodent's head, where it can capture the activity of up to 200 individual brain cells as the animal explores its environment.

That's more cells than can be monitored using an expensive two-photon microscope, which doesn't allow the animal to move, says Mark Schnitzer, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and one of the device's creators. The microscope is designed to detect fluorescent light, which is often used in biological research to mark different cells.

Schnitzer, a TR35 honoree in 2003, says it's difficult to calculate the cost of building the microscope, but he says each component costs only a few dollars. Schnitzer and some of his collaborators have formed a startup to commercialize the device.

The research is part of a growing trend in microscopy to make smaller and smaller devices, which are useful for everything from new areas of research to detecting tuberculosis in developing countries. These diminutive new devices are made possible in large part by the rapidly falling cost and size of electronics components—a trend that has in turn been driven by the demand for consumer devices.
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