Scientists develop microscopic calibration tool with fluorescent nanodiamonds

Microscopy image of fluorescent nudiamonds. This calibration tool was developed by researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and industry partner GlaxoSmithKline. Nanodiamonds are a microscopic first-aid kit that has stood the test of time because of their durability and longevity. Credit: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
Geologists, jewelers, and microscopists all agree that diamonds will last forever. Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been using microscopic nanodiamonds as calibrators and to assess the performance of high-powered microscopes. The tiny "first-aid kit" is more than capable of the job because of its durability and longevity.

Advanced optical microscopy systems offer high-resolution views into the structure and function cells and molecular compounds. The development of a stable fluorescent nanodiamond Phantom promises broad-reaching applications for microscopy research as well as quality control.

This could be a standard calibration tool for fluorescence microscopy around the world. The sample is convenient and easy to use. This research was led by Mantas Urauskas, an imaging researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

Photonics Research published the paper by the team, "Fluorescent Nanodiamonds for Characterization of Nonlinear Microscopy Systems,"

Fluorescent nanodiamonds, microscopic particles that contain small amounts of chemical elements as impurities, are fluorescent. Their ability to produce stable microscopic images has been demonstrated by urauskas' research.

Urauskas stated that "[They] are exceptional in the fact that they don't bleach." They look exactly the same every time you look at them. This is very rare in fluorescence microscopy.

In biomedical microscopy imaging, it is difficult to create reliable calibration samples (phantoms).

"There are always changes when you look at a fluorescent structure. These are tiny beads that have fluorescent dye. I often used them as phantoms. They are slightly darker each time you look at them. "It's actually fluorescence decay that is a major enemy in fluorescence microscopescopy," urauskas stated.

It is essential to assess the quality of an optical system's daily operations by using a calibrated sample.

"It's like a first-aid kit to a microscope," explained urauskas. "Ideally, we want the same object every time so that the image is the same."

Nanodiamonds are stable and long-lasting, which allows them to be used as calibration tools without the need for labor-intensive preparations that researchers usually have to undergo.

Beckman's collaborative research environment was crucial in the development of this sturdy, yet easy-to-use imaging device phantom.

Stephen Boppart, Professor and GSK Center Director, created a unique environment and a unique range expertise so people can meet in corridors, can discuss the challenges they face daily and find unique solutions.

Boppart also stressed the unique interdisciplinarity of the research.

"We have a large, inter-disciplinary lab that does all the development and application. We develop laser sources and microscopes and use them to conduct biological and medical research and even clinical human studies. We also create new tools to keep up with the advancement of microscopy systems.

Boppart stated that this research was possible because of the interdisciplinarity and collaboration.

How do phantoms get created?

urauskas explains that nanodiamonds can be seen as individual particles or in dense distributions. The viewfinder grid is a laser-machined grid that has nanodiamonds embedded. It can be found on a second plane. This allows you to locate the exact same area every time.

Industry partners are currently evaluating the imaging Phantom for wider use.

"Currently, we have two companies that are evaluating the Phantom. LiveBx is a small spinoff from the university. This company is interested in learning how the phantoms could be used to improve their system," stated urauskas.

GlaxoSmithKline, an industry partner, is also working with the new Phantom for Quality Control Applications in its own Biomedical Research Labs.

This technology is a significant scientific advance in calibrating microscopy systems, as well as the images they produce. It also points to future research into creating stable and more advanced phantoms.

Continue reading: Sorting nanodiamonds featuring fluorescent centers

More information: Mantas urauskas et., Fluorescent nanodiamonds to characterize nonlinear microscopy system, Photonics Research (2021). Mantas urauskas et. al., Fluorescent Nanodiamonds to Characterize Nonlinear Microscopy Systems, (2021). DOI: 10.1364/PRJ.434236