2009

Scanning Miniature Microscopes Without Lenses

Polarization-sensitive and multicolor versions should also be possible.

The figure schematically depicts some alternative designs of proposed compact, lightweight optoelectronic microscopes that would contain no lenses and would generate magnified video images of specimens. Microscopes of this type were described previously in “Miniature Microscope Without Lenses” (NPO - 20218), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 22, No. 8 (August 1998), page 43 and “Reflective Variants of Miniature Microscope Without Lenses” (NPO 20610), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 26, No. 9 (September 1999), page 6a. To recapitulate: In the design and construction of a microscope of this type, the focusing optics of a conventional microscope are replaced by a combination of a microchannel filter and a charge-coupled-device (CCD) image detector. Elimination of focusing optics reduces the size and weight of the instrument and eliminates the need for the time-consuming focusing operation.

altThe microscopes described in the cited prior articles contained two-dimensional CCDs registered with two-dimensional arrays of microchannels and, as such, were designed to produce full two-dimensional images, without need for scanning. The microscopes of the present proposal would contain one-dimensional (line image) CCDs registered with linear arrays of microchannels. In the operation of such a microscope, one would scan a specimen along a line perpendicular to the array axis (in other words, one would scan in “pushbroom” fashion). One could then synthesize a full two-dimensional image of the specimen from the line-image data acquired at one-pixel increments of position along the scan.

In one of the proposed microscopes, a beam of unpolarized light for illuminating the specimen would enter from the side. This light would be reflected down onto the specimen by a nonpolarizing beam splitter attached to the microchannels at their lower ends. A portion of the light incident on the specimen would be reflected upward, through the beam splitter and along the microchannels, to form an image on the CCD.

If the nonpolarizing beam splitter were replaced by a polarizing one, then the specimen would be illuminated by s-polarized light. Upon reflection from the specimen, some of the s-polarized light would become p-polarized. Only the p-polarized light would contribute to the image on the CCD; in other words, the image would contain information on the polarization-rotating characteristic of the specimen.

The scanning microscopes described above could be used as building blocks for a multicolor, multipolarization microscope. In the example shown in the figure, six scanning microscopes would be assembled on a single translation stage. The microchannels would be interspersed with light sources that would comprise light-emitting diodes (LEDs) coupled to the beam splitters via prismlike light guides.

This work was done by Yu Wang of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, NASA Management Office–JPL. Refer to NPO-20821.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Scanning Miniature Microscopes Without Lenses (reference NPO-20821) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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