Single lens allows microscopes to capture 3D images

March 22, 2011

Lens enables microscopes to capture 3D images (Photo credit: Kevin Fitzsimons/Ohio State University)

Engineers at Ohio State University have invented a single lens that enables microscopic objects to be seen from nine different angles at once to create a 3D image, says Allen Yi, associate professor of integrated systems engineering.

Other 3D microscopes use multiple lenses or cameras that move around an object; the new lens is the first single, stationary lens to create microscopic 3D images by itself.

Colleague Lei Li wrote a computer program to design the lens. They then used a commercially available milling tool with a diamond blade to cut the shape from a piece of the common thermoplastic material polymethyl methacrylate (“acrylic glass”).

The machine shaved bits of plastic from the lens in increments of 10 nanometers, or 10 billionths of a meter. The final lens resembled a rhinestone, with a faceted top and a wide, flat bottom. Each facet captured the same image from a different angle. The images were combined into a 3D image using a computer.

Multiple images of a 1 mm ballpoint pen tip (Photo credit: Ohio State University)

The engineers successfully recorded 3D images of the 1 mm tip of a ballpoint pen and a 0.2 mm diameter mini-drill bit. Using the lens is like putting nine microscopes into one, says Yi.

Their work appears in The Journal of the Optical Society of America.