Electrical engineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed technology that improves the resolution of a conventional light microscope.

The new technology turns an ordinary light microscope into an ultra-high resolution device. It uses a specially developed material that shortens the wavelength of light when the sample is illuminated. It is this squeezed light that allows the microscope to obtain higher resolution images.

The technology is simple: it is necessary to place the sample on the material and then under a conventional microscope.

Light microscopes are useful for imaging living cells, but they cannot be used to see anything smaller. Conventional light microscopes have a resolution limit of 200 nanometers. Any objects closer than this distance will not be observed as separate objects. And while more powerful instruments such as electron microscopes exist, they cannot be used to observe living cells. For them, the samples must be placed in a vacuum chamber.

The technology consists of a microscope slide covered with a special material. It consists of alternating layers of silver and silica glass several nanometers thick. As light passes through it, wavelengths shorten and scatter.

Using this material, a conventional light microscope can be used to obtain images of living subcellular structures with a resolution of up to 40 nanometers.