The pinhole camera has inspired a lens-less, three-dimensional imaging technology that produces some of the brightest, sharpest X-ray holograms of microscopic objects to date. The technology was developed by scientists at the Advanced Light Source of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and at FLASH, the free-electron laser in Hamburg, Germany.

“Our purpose was to explore methods of making images of nanoscale objects on the time scale of atomic motions, a length and time regime that promises to become accessible with advances in free-electron lasers,” says Stefano Marchesini of the ALS, who led the research. “The technique we used is called massively parallel x-ray Fourier-transform holography, with coded apertures. What inspired me to try this approach was the pinhole camera.”

By knowing the precise layout of a pinhole array, including the different sizes of the various pinholes, a computer can recover a bright, high-resolution image numerically. According to Marchesini, putting a uniformly redundant array next to an object being imaged with the x-ray beam line creates a holographic image with orders of magnitude higher intensity than a standard hologram.

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