The advent of structured illumination microscopy (SIM) has proven a boon to biological research due to its capacity to provide high-resolution and high-contrast images with low photon exposure. Economic and instrument availability constraints have proven a hindrance to the wider deployment of this technology. Fortunately, prospective SIM users can take advantage of this superior analytical technique by converting a standard optical microscope into a high-resolution tool.

Researchers from Stanford University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Czech Technical University and University of Colorado have issued open-source guidelines detailing how to use relatively inexpensive, commercially available components to elevate an optical device for SIM applications. Following the do-it-yourself instructions results in a SIM system that offers a twofold increase in resolution compared with a conventional microscope, enabling researchers to observe details as small as 100 nm across.

Add-ons include high-power LEDs illuminating a liquid-crystal-on-silicon spatial light modulator, which generates the pattern to be projected on the sample. A software interface brings together on-the-fly control of pattern, illumination color and light intensity.

Testing an initial prototype in university research laboratories with real-world research samples confirmed the utility of the upgraded instruments. Users cited benefits in terms of the simple optical design with reliable performance, minimal alignment and maintenance requirements, and reduced economic burden.

In addition to the open-source tutorial, the researchers published an explanatory article in the journal Nature Communications.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com