Unique Microscope Installed in the Technology Building

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The first nano pictures of a liver cell have been captured with a brand new microscope at the Department of Physics and Technology.

The image above shows a surface cell from the liver with a unique level of detail.  Nano-scaled pores that are a part of the cell transport system can be seen as black dots. The new SIM-microscope (structured illumination microscope) opens up a new world for researchers at UiT.
The SIM microscope occupies as much space as 5 large refrigerators.  In the picture above Balpreet demonstrates how cell samples are mounted onto the  microscope.

In Tromsø there has never been taken such unique images before.  Thanks to the newly purchased microscope in the group of Balpreet Sing Ahluwalia at the Department of Physics and Technology, this is now possible.  What differentiates this microscope from already existing models at UiT, is its ability to capture images of structures in the  nano-scale region in for example liver cells.  This instrument has an optical resolution of 20-50 nm, down to 0.000002 cm.  The microscope is housed in the SIM-lab in the new Technology Building in Tromsø.  The instrument was purchased for 6,5 million NOK from the US.

"As far as we know, this is the only instrument north of Oslo that can take images with nano-scale precision" says a proud Balpreet.

Close Cooperation Between Physicists and Molecular Biologists

Research on optics, sensor-technology and new applications of optical sensors in microscopy has led physicists and molecular biologists to work together.  Balpreet is working closely with specialist in the medical faculty, researching transport of compounds in the liver.  The liver is in many ways the body's landfill removing harmful waste from the bloodstream.  It also sorts out  which medicines can pass through the body, and is therefore of great interest in medical research.  With the new microscope, researchers can map out details in the liver transport system to a level that has never been seen before.  For example, small wholes and pores central to transport of compounds in the liver can now be visualized.

Developing "Nano Filming" Technique

Deanna Wolfson (left) and Cristina Øie interprets one of the very first images produced with the new instrument

Two years ago, Balpreet Singh Ahluwalin received the prestigious ERC Starting Grant to develop a microscope able to film living cells.  This film will allow researchers to study how the small pores in the liver cell are able to open and close themselves.  It will also be useful for studying the effect of medicine and alcohol on the liver cells.  The technique is called "chip-based optical nanoscopy."  A special chip for cell samples are developed and the optical properties of the chip enable visualization of detailed images of cell structures.

According to Balpreet, advanced microscopy today is done with very complex microscopes, where the cell samples are placed on a simple glass plate.  Through his research Balpreet would like to switch this technique around.  Namely by using a simple microscope and an advanced chip that the sample is applied onto.

"We are well underway with the development and has so far managed to test that the chip technology works, but it remains to record live images of transport in and out of the pores. This is a promising technology and we can not say much more because there are opportunities for patents here" says Balpreet.

PhD student Oystein Helle participates in the exciting work of developing microscopes that can film details in cells that have never before been seen.

The facilities in the Technology building are part of the "Advanced Microscopy Core Facility" at the Faculty of Medicine and is a resource that can be used by researchers throughout UiT.

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Advanced microscopy core facility

Fact:  Optical microscopes have a physical lower resolution   of about 200-300nm. This is a fundamental lower limit surpassed only in recent   years by new techniques. This resulted in a Nobel Prize to the field of optical   nanoscopy (S. Hell 2014). The newly acquired OMX-microscope uses the   SIM-technique (structure illumination microscopy) affording a resolution of   about 100nm, and/or Single Molecule Localization Microscopy giving a   resolution of ca 20-50nm. The latter technique gives good resolution but   takes a lot of time

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