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High-speed 3D microscopy reveals even the smallest details

Published on 1.3.2023
Tampere University
Microscope photo of bone cancer cell.
Microscope photo of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer cell. Illustration: National Cancer Institute, USA / Unsplash
Life is a complex dynamic phenomenon that takes place in three dimensions. A detailed look at a fraction of time is needed to decode it. But how close can you look to reveal the detailed structures of living cells in three dimensions? Researchers at Tampere University are developing new methods for high-speed volumetric microscopy combining interdisciplinary expertise in optics and photonics, 3D media, and cellular biophysics.

To observe living cells through a microscope, a sample is usually squeezed onto a glass slide, which makes the sample stable and the cells observable. However, the downside is that this limits how the cells behave and produces only two-dimensional images.

3D microscopes already exist, but they are slow and give poor results. The most common type works by recording the sample sequentially pixel by pixel, which are then assembled into a 3D image. This takes time, and they often cannot handle more than a few shots in a minute.

“So far, it has been impossible to catch the cellular dynamics that take place in seconds, such as the beating heart or neural activity of a zebrafish, which is a commonly studied model organism,” explains Humeyra Caglayan, Professor of Experimental Optics and Photonics and leader of the project at Tampere University.

Metaoptics and machine learning to advance light-based bioimaging

Caglayan and her team aim to develop new methods for high-speed volumetric (3D) microscopy by combining the interdisciplinary expertise of three research groups at Tampere University: Metaplasmonics group led by Caglayan, 3D Media group led by Professor Atanas Gotchev and Dr. Erdem Sahin, and Cellular Biophysics group led by Dr. Teemu Ihalainen. Grundium Oy will also contribute to the project as a key microscopy manufacturer in the Tampere area.

“The team will utilise the emerging flat optical elements, i.e., metaoptics, which can deliver new disrupting optical functionalities at the sub-wavelength resolution, in tandem with modern machine learning algorithms in a computational imaging framework.  Metaoptics and neural image processing components together will enable the new technology that will overcome the traditional limitations in 3D microscopy,” says Caglayan.

Such technology will provide 3D images where researchers can study the smallest details clearly and visibly in both space and time.

“Our approach promises snapshot 3D volumetric imaging capability, which can keep the time needed for image acquisition and the light dose at a minimal level. Thus, the proposed technology has great potential to advance light-based imaging in life sciences and biomedical research fields, such as the observation of the interactions of cancer cells in culture,” Caglayan adds.

The project High-speed 3D microscopy will start in April 2023 and run until the end of 2025. It has received funding from the joint Future Makers Programme of Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation and the Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation.

Further information

Humeyra Caglayan
+358 50 447 8330
humeyra.caglayan [at]