High resolution microscopy through fibre optics for medical and other applications
Endomicroscopy is an imaging technique which allows microscopy to be performed through optical fibres. It has a wide range of potential applications which involve imaging in otherwise inaccessible places, such as geological exploration and mechanical inspection. However, the predominant and established application for endomicroscopy is in medicine, where it is performed during standard endoscopy procedures to perform high magnification imaging in all parts of the gastrointestinal tract as well as deep within the lungs.
Aperture synthesis is an astronomical technique whereby small telescopes are used to form a large synthetic mirror which improves the maximum achievable resolution. This technology applies aperture synthesis to the field of endomicroscopy by using an analogous optical setup with multi-core optical fibres. The single fibres act as miniature “telescopes”, allowing all the fibres together to make a synthetic lens with variable focus. It is expected that this technology will lead to significant improvements in resolution and probe size compared to conventional endomicroscopy techniques.
A project is currently underway to demonstrate the feasibility of this technique using a breadboard system. This is a simplified system and will require further technical development for use in industry.
•Resolution increase of up to a factor of 4 compared to existing systems
• Reduction in probe diameter by up to a factor of 10 compared to existing systems
• Unlike existing systems, the probe is not required to make contact with the object under observation
• Variable focus
• Geological exploration
• Mechanical inspection
• Microscopy in marine environments
• Any environment where fibre optics can be used to reach otherwise inaccessible areas