Zengbo Wang from the University of Manchester and his colleagues from that university and from the University of Singapore have extended the range of optical microscopes by at least twenty fold. To do so, they make use of transparent structures called microspheres, creating what they call a ‘microsphere nanoscope’.
Traditional optical microscopes cannot be used to discriminate objects less than one micrometer (a thousandth of a millimeter) apart. By adding the microspheres, that limit has been dropped to 50 nanometers (millionths of a millimeter). The ability of the tiny spheres to amplify images is theoretically limitless, possibly allowing researchers to watch viruses (which are typically measured in nanometers) in action.
Schematic of the transmission mode microsphere superlens integrated with a classical optical microscope. The spheres collect the near-field object information and form virtual images that can be captured by the conventional lens.