Manchester start-up unveils world’s first microsphere nanoscope

A British nanotech invention has revolutionised the humble optical microscope by quadrupling its magnification power to a level far beyond what could previously be achieved with visible light.

The new technology makes it possible for the first time to view the structure of viruses with a regular microscope, not one that uses electron beams or X-rays to observe very tiny objects.

The commercial launch of a revolutionary new technology known as SMAL (Super-Resolution Microsphere Amplified Lens) is a world first in microscopy, devised by a Manchester Science Park based nanotechnology start up.

Led by Professor Lin Li, the LIG Nanowise team has successfully translated the concept into a market ready microscope called NANOPSIS which has the potential to significantly accelerate R&D in a number of critical fields including drug discovery, cancer research and microelectronics production.

The cutting-edge, patented, SMAL technology modifies standard white light microscopes to dramatically increase their resolution. This allows users to view the nanoscopic world as never before seen with standard optical microcopes.

This level of detailed imaging is vital for researchers working at the forefront of drug discovery, oncology and infectious diseases. This has traditionally required expensive equipment only found in universities, large corporations, or specialist centres. High demand for these facilities means turnaround for sample imaging can be slow – adding days or weeks to tight timescales – as well as being unreliable and costly.

By removing this barrier, NANOPSIS promises to be a game changer for R&D laboratories, universities and microelectronics quality control around the world.

‘Researchers can use our microscopes to validate samples and carry out routine work in their own laboratory without having to waste valuable time booking into an imaging centre.  This is because unlike other super-resolution technologies, which require a huge amount of expertise, our NANOPSIS nanoscopes can be used by anyone with basic undergraduate scientific training – making it fast, convenient and highly cost effective. 

‘Equally important, is the fact that these reliable, repeatable imaging results are delivered at the frontline of research, rather than part of a disjointed process in an inaccessible centre. Our aim is to make super-resolution imaging more accessible to researchers across the globe,’ explains Professor Lin Li, Chairman of LIG Nanowise, the team behind the innovation.

Crucially for biological and medical applications, the optical lens does not have to be in contact with the sample and so removes the risk of potential damage.

Additional financial benefits of SMAL powered NANOPSIS nanoscopes include faster sample throughput, greater power efficiency and a significantly cheaper investment compared to other super-resolution microscopes currently available on the market – costing 5 times less than technology rivals STED and STORM (used for biological imaging), and estimated to be 10 times cheaper than a standard electron microscope.

The super-resolution sector represents around 20% of the total global microscopy market, which is estimated to be worth around £4bn and forecast to rise to £5bn by 2020.

LIG Nanowise and Manchester Science Partnerships are holding a joint launch event with live demos of NANOPSIS on 29 June 2017 at MSP’s biomedical centre of excellence, Citylabs 1.0.   

For further information and/or to book a place, please click here.

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