An inexpensive microscope about the size of a gumdrop could allow scientists to peer into the inner workings of living, moving animals much more easily. The device is small and light enough—it weighs less than two grams—to be mounted atop a rodent’s head, where it can capture the activity of up to 200 individual brain cells as the animal explores its environment.
That’s more cells than can be monitored using an expensive two-photon microscope, which doesn’t allow the animal to move, says Mark Schnitzer, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and one of the device’s creators. The microscope is designed to detect fluorescent light, which is often used in biological research to mark different cells.
The research is part of a growing trend in microscopy to make smaller and smaller devices, which are useful for everything from new areas of research to detecting tuberculosis in developing countries. These diminutive new devices are made possible in large part by the rapidly falling cost and size of electronics components—a trend that has in turn been driven by the demand for consumer devices.
“The massive volume of the cell-phone market is driving costs down while not sacrificing performance,” says Aydogan Ozcan, professor of electrical and biomedical engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Scientists are realizing that with cost-effective compact architecture, they can have components that a decade ago would cost thousands of dollars, if you could find them.”
At the heart of the Stanford microscope is a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor, like the kind found in cell-phone cameras. All of the components used are either mass-produced or capable of being mass-produced, making it easy to scale up production. The research was published on Sunday in the journal News