"Ever since the invention of the microscope in the 17th century, it has been observed that live cells are transparent under visible illumination, i.e. they do not absorb (or scatter) light significantly. Thus, a magnified image of cells will generally exhibit low contrast. In order to overcome this difficulty, researchers have used exogenous (extrinsic) contrast agents that bind at various sites in the cell and render the structures visible. In the 1930s, Zernike realized that, although cells are not highly absorbing, they produce significant changes to the wavefront of the incident light due to refractive index variations across the cell, i.e. cells are phase objects. This simply means that light travels with different velocities in different regions of the cell, or, equivalently, that light experiences different time (phase) delays across the cell.
Quantifying the optical phase shifts associated with cells gives access to information about morphology and dynamics at the nanometer scale. Scanning electron microscopy can produce quantitative images of cellular components with nanometer scale accuracy. However, this method requires heavy preparation, which prevents its applicability to live cells.
In order to obtain nanometer scale information from unperturbed live cells, we employed the principle of optical interferometry, where a probe light beam is compared (interfered) with a reference beam. Quantifying the phase difference between the imaging and the reference beams, detailed knowledge about cell motions is obtained."
-Taken from the MIT Spectroscopy Lab website. Retrieved 12-30-12 at 8:00 AM.
"Our lab develops novel optical methods based on light scattering, interferometry, and microscopy, to image cells and tissues quantitatively and with nanoscale sensitivity. We apply our techniques to both basic science (e.g., cell dynamics, cell growth, intracellular transport, membrane fluctuations, tissue optics) and clinical applications (e.g., blood screening, cancer diagnosis). We are located in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prof. Gabriel Popescu is faculty in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and affiliated faculty in Bioengineering; our group members are from Physics, Electrical, Mechanical, and Bioengineering."
"Dr. Gabriel Popescu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and holds a full faculty appointment with the Beckman Institute for Advance Science and Technology. He is also an affiliate faculty in the Bioengineering Department. Prof. Popescu received the B.S. and M.S. in Physics from University of Bucharest, in 1995 and 1996, respectively. He obtained his M.S. in Optics in 1999 and the Ph.D. in Optics in 2002 from the School of Optics/ CREOL (now the College of Optics and Photonics), University of Central; Florida. Dr. Popescu continued his training with the G. R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory at M.I.T., working as a postdoctoral associate. He joined UIUC in August 2007." -Taken from the QLI Labs website.
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