Micro-periscopes allow seeing all sides at once

An optical trick allows small objects to be viewed from top and four sides at the same time

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in the USA have found that if they make truncated pyramid shaped pits in silicon, which are then mirrored with gold or platinum, objects within them can be simultaneously viewed from top and sides using an ordinary microscope. So far, the researchers have used the mirrored wells to examine how protozoa swim and cells divide. “The method is particularly well suited for studying dynamic processes within cells because it can follow them in three dimensions,” explained Chris Janetopoulos, assistant professor of biological sciences. The mirrored pyramidal wells provide a high resolution, multi vantage point form of microscopy that also makes it easier for researchers to measure a number of important cell properties. For his senior thesis, for example, undergraduate researcher Charlie Wright explored how the technique can be used to measure the volume of individual yeast cells with unprecedented accuracy. In addition, professor John Wikswo and research associate Dmitry Markov plan to create mirrored microchannels to measure how cells are deformed under stress induced by fluid flowing through hair-width channels in order to determine how fluid flow affects cell behavior and attachment. The research was part funded by a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. A patent has been applied for.