New Microscope Platform Eliminates Vibrations For Super High-Res Photos

By Ben Wolford on March 18, 2014 1:47 PM EDT

Developers say this microscope platform eliminates even the slightest vibrations. (Photo: FraunhoferLBF)

Developers say this microscope platform eliminates even the slightest vibrations. (Photo: FraunhoferLBF)

When scientists and photographers take pictures of, say, a maggot's face or a single grain of pollen, they're often using a machine called a scanning electron microscope, or SEM. These microscopes don't see using light; instead, they fire electrons at a sample and read the X-rays and electrons that bounce back to form an image. They can capture tiny objects in extreme detail, but the drawback is they're extremely sensitive to even the slightest vibrations.

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Now, researchers in Germany have engineered what they say is the most advanced vibration platform yet. It can eliminate the low-frequency vibrations that are impossible for humans to detect and that some basic isolation platforms are unable to mask. "If someone walking across the room or an elevator going up and down between nearby floors makes the table shake, you're unlikely to get good results," according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF, in Darmstadt. 

The least high-tech kind of isolation table is literally just a slab of granite. Waves coursing along the molecules of the floor and up a table often stop dead in their tracks when they hit the dense, heavy rock. But granite isn't perfect. It's less effective at dampening low-frequency vibrations. And as SOMA Scientific Instruments points out, granite isolation tables can weigh a ton or more.

For more mobility and to capture a broader range of frequencies, vibration control tables were developed using springs and sensors. They works by sensing incoming vibrations in three dimensions, and actuators corresponding to the sensors throw weight in the opposite direction, canceling out the motion. This new creation works the same way, but there's a key difference. While other tables build the technology into the four legs of a table, the Fraunhofer developers built it into the table surface itself.

"Conventional vibration control tables have mounts that are fitted with readymade actuators and sensors that work independently of the table itself," says engineer Torsten Bartel in a statement. "What we have done is to combine these functional elements beforehand within the mounts themselves. We don't use complete actuators — we use a number of interacting components that carry out the same function. So instead of having a system of individual elements producing a team effort, as was usual up to now, we have one composite unit." 

They plan to unveil their prototype next month in Germany. Utimately, this may be a cheaper option for scientists who want to take creepy pictures of a hydrothermal worm.

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