From Semiconductors to Proteins: Beyond the Average Structure (Fundamental Materials Research)


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The reason the remaining PSF is so narrow is that de-excitation saturates abruptly at zero excitation negative excitation does not occur and a very intense STED pulse switches all of the probes except those within a few nanometers of the center. In Figure 4.

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There is no intrinsic limit to this narrowing, and 20 nm resolution has been demonstrated. Gains in axial resolution are also achieved by using two converging objective lenses on opposite sides of the specimen, and irreversible photobleaching is minimized by allowing triplet states to relax between excitation-quench pulses. Schematic diagram showing a operation of stimulated emission depletion STED microscopy, b images of fluorescent-labeled synaptic vesicles using standard confocal microscopy, and c same vesicles imaged with STED microscopy.

Scale bars are nm more Images at high resolution are obtained by raster-scanning the sharp PSF excitation spot over the sample and sequentially collecting the fluorescence emission from each spot to reconstruct the distribution of fluorescent probes in the specimen. In one experiment, synaptotagmin-labeled synaptic vesicles were resolved much more clearly in STED images Figure 4.

Biomimetic materials research: what can we really learn from nature's structural materials?

Fluorophores can be switched on and off by photophysical means other than stimulated emission. Certain fluorescent proteins, organic dyes, and pairs of closely spaced cyanine dyes are photoswitchable between fluorescent and nonfluorescent metastable states using two different wavelengths. Again, switching these probes off is saturable, allowing the equivalent of STED narrowing of the PSF but at much lower laser intensities. The disadvantage of fluorochrome switching is that the image collection times are much longer.

Individual fluorescent molecules can be localized to within a few nanometers by collection of sufficient photons and fitting an appropriate kernel function to find the center of their PSF. Repeatedly switching a few single fluorophores on and off so that they are spatially separated allows determination of the position of each one at nanometer precision. After many cycles of excitation and reversible quenching, the overall spatial distribution emerges. This group of special fluorescence microscopic techniques and further developments are highly likely to accelerate understanding of spatial distributions, dynamics, and signal transduction in a broad range of molecular and cell biological problems.

The discovery of X-ray diffraction from crystals by von Laue and Bragg nearly years ago marked the beginning of developments for visualizing the three-dimensional atomic structures inside crystals. Indeed, X-ray crystallography has since made a tremendous impact in materials sciences, physical sciences, and biology. It has now reached a point where, as long as appropriate high-quality crystals are obtained, it can determine any structure. However, many biological samples such as whole cells, organelles, viruses, and many important protein molecules are difficult or impossible to crystallize and are hence not accessible to crystallography.

Currently, there are two successful approaches to high-resolution, full-field X-ray imaging of noncrystalline samples: one that uses a high-resolution lens and another that does not use a lens but requires coherent illumination. Both of these imaging techniques have demonstrated rapidly improving resolution: nm. While the first approach requires a high-resolution X-ray lens similar to that of a standard optical microscope, it does not require a source with high degree of coherence. In fact, using a laboratory X-ray source, subnm-resolution, three-dimensional imaging has been achieved.

The second approach does not require an X-ray lens but requires a source with a high brilliance, such as a third-generation synchrotron source or the upcoming fourth-generation free-electron X-ray laser source. Newly developed X-ray imaging techniques are expected to have a major impact on biomolecular materials research by facilitating fundamentally new ways of characterizing events at the nanometer scale and also as a function of time.


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In addition to bridging the resolution gap between optical and electron microscopy, they offer many unique capabilities resulting from the high penetration power at short wavelengths of X-rays for nondestructive and time-lapse imaging. Using nanoparticles as markers, X-ray three-dimensional cryotomography with nano meter resolution will allow the study of many important biomolecular processes.

Nondestructive three-dimensional tomography will play an important role in the development of future-generation nanostructured biomolecular materials with the desired chemical, mechanical, and functional properties. A schematic illustration of a lens-based X-ray full-field tomographic imaging microscope is shown in Figure 4. It consists of an X-ray source, a high-efficiency condenser lens focusing X-rays onto the sample, a high-precision rotation stage, an objective zone plate lens, and a high resolution charge-coupled device detector.

Spatial resolution better than 15 nm has been demonstrated with 8 keV synchrotron X-rays. Using a laboratory X-ray source, a full field X-ray microscope with 50 nm resolution has recently been developed. High-resolution X-ray tomography opens up new avenues to nondestructively explore the internal structure of optically opaque solids with nanometer-scale resolution, previously not possible with other analytical techniques.

As a proof of concept, Figure 4. Left Schematic of a zone-plate-based full-field three-dimensional X-ray microscope operating in phase contrast mode. The principle of operation is very similar to that of a visible light microscope, where the visible light source is replaced by the more To fully utilize the high penetration power and to image weakly absorbing objects, such as biological cells, the phase contrast technique has been applied to full-field imaging X-ray microscopy. For structures containing mostly low atomic number elements, such as biological specimens, phase variations provide much more contrast than absorption, especially for X-ray energies greater than a few keV.