ANU researchers use barcode scanner like technology to film neurons firing

The sophisticated microscope built by ANU engineers can image moving blood cells and neural activity in animals, in high speed and in high resolution.


Engineers from the Australian National University have repurposed a barcode scanner to film neurons firing. The advanced microscope can image moving blood cells and neural activity in animals, in high speed and in high resolution. The microscope is much more advanced than commercially available products for similar purposes.

Dr Steve Lee, the lead researcher on the project said, "Scientists can use our new microscope to analyse complex medical problems ranging from blood disorders and cancer to neurological disorders. The microscope can speed up or slow down to capture the slow moving cells in a blood stream or live neurons firing rapidly in the brain, making it much more flexible than other microscopes on the market."

The technology used is similar to barcode scanners in supermarkets, or laser printers in offices. A typical barcode scanner bounces a laser beam off a polygonal mirror with up to 10 facets to register patterns. The researchers used a more powerful laser, and a polygonal mirror with thirty six facets. The image resolution is the same as conventional, commercially available microscopes, but the speed is doubled in the new invention. The microscope can capture videos at 800 frames per second, and can function as a realtime imaging solution.

The researchers used advanced electronics, and a flexible, customised open source software. The process to build the sophisticated microscope took over a year, and the team was helped by researchers and engineers from Australia and the United States. The research has been published in the Journal of Biophotonics.

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