Adaptive optics for three-dimensional microscopy and photonic engineering

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Engineering Science

Abstract

Light is a versatile tool for imaging and engineering on microscopic scales. Optical microscopes use focused light so that we can view specimens with high resolution. These microscopes are widely used in the life sciences to permit the visualisation of cellular structures and sub-cellular processes. However, the resolution of an optical microscope is often adversely affected by the very presence of the specimen it images. Variations in the optical properties of the specimen introduce optical distortions, known as aberrations, that compromise image quality. This is a particular problem when imaging deep into thick specimens such as skin or brain tissue. Ultimately, the aberrations restrict the amount of the specimen that can be observed by the microscope, the depth often being limited to a few cellular layers near the surface. This is a serious limitation if one wants to observe cells and their processes in their natural environment, rather than on a microscope slide. I am developing microscopes that will remove the problematic aberrations and enable high resolution imaging deep in specimens.Focused light also has other less well-known uses. It can be used to initiate chemical reactions that create polymer or metal building blocks for fabrication on the sub-micrometre scale. These blocks, with sizes as small as a few tens of nanometers, can be built into structures in a block-by-block fashion. Alternatively, larger blocks of material can be sculpted into shape using the high intensities of focused lasers. These optical methods of fabrication show potential for use in the manufacture of nanotechnological devices. When manufacturing such devices, the laser must be focused through parts of the pre-fabricated structure. The greater the overall size and complexity of the structures, the more the effects of aberrations degrade the precision of the fabrication system. My research centres on the use of advanced techniques to measure and correct such distortions, restoring the accuracy of these optical systems.Traditional optical systems consist mainly of static elements, e.g. lenses for focusing, mirrors for reflecting and scanning, and prisms for separating different wavelengths. However, in the systems I use the aberrations are changing constantly. Therefore they require an adaptive method of correction in which the aberrations are dynamically compensated. These adaptive optics techniques were originally developed for astronomical and military purposes, for stabilising and de-blurring telescope images of stars and satellites. Such images are affected by the aberrations introduced by turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere. The most obvious manifestation of this is the twinkling of stars seen by the naked eye. Recent technological developments, such as compact and affordable deformable mirrors for compensating the optical distortions, mean that this technology is now being developed for more down-to-Earth reasons. This has opened up the possibility of using adaptive optics in smaller scale applications.In conjunction with researchers in Japan and Australia, I will develop adaptive optical fabrication systems that will be able to produce complex micrometre-scale structures with greater accuracy than was previously possible. With biologists in the University of Oxford, I will use adaptive optics to increase the capabilities of microscopes in imaging deep into thick specimens. This will enable biologists to learn more about the processes that occur within cells and the development of organisms. The aberration correction technology will also have use in other areas such as medical imaging, optical communications and astronomy.
 
Description Numerous new methods were introduced to improve the capabilities of optical microscopes and laser-based micro/nano-fabrication systems. At a fundamental level, new theoretical methods for adaptive optics were developed, providing new approaches to current challenges in this field. Adaptive optics was incorporated in a range of high resolution microscopes, enabling significant improvements in the ability to image at depth inside specimens. These microscopes were used for applications in biomedical research, permitting the observation of biological processes in thick tissue specimens, rather than simply cells on microscope slides. Other methods were developed for laser-based micro and nano-fabrication. The use of adaptive optics enable fabrication of three-dimensional structures inside materials, including photonics crystals, waveguide circuits and diamond structures. Other advances involved the parallelisation of laser writing methods in order to increase fabrication speed. These methods will be used in future manufacturing applications.
Exploitation Route The technologies developed in this project could be used in an industrial context, such as improved optical microscopes and new methods for manufacturing. This research is leading to better microscopes that can be used extensively in a range of scientific areas, most particularly in biomedical research. The development of new laser fabrication techniques is providing a practical route to the use of this technology in wider contexts, including manufacture of more complex optical and photonics devices.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Other

 
Description The methods for aberration correction in microscopes are being adopted for many applications in biomedical research, where the need to obtain accurate and clear images from deep inside specimens is essential to improve scientific understanding. Dynamic laser machining is now being employed to create light handling chips for quantum optical processing, a method that could transform computation and communications. These machining methods are also being applied to the fabrication of intricate diamond structures, which will have numerous industrial applications. These technologies have now formed the basis of a spin-off company providing laser machining services and instrumentation.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Retail
Impact Types Economic

 
Description EPSRC Programme Grant
Amount £3,504,134 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K032518/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2013 
End 04/2018
 
Description ERC Advanced Grant
Amount € 3,234,789 (EUR)
Funding ID 695140 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2016 
End 08/2021
 
Description Flexcos research grant
Amount £347,004 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M017923/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 04/2018
 
Description Funding from BBSRC
Amount £116,277 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/J020907/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 01/2014
 
Description Funding from EPSRC Bright IDEAS scheme
Amount £239,502 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/H049037/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2010 
End 02/2012
 
Description Funding from Wellcome Trust
Amount £873,480 (GBP)
Funding ID 095927/B/11/Z 
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2011 
End 09/2016
 
Description Funding from the Medical Research Council
Amount £1,979,847 (GBP)
Funding ID MR/K01577X/1 
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2013 
End 01/2018
 
Description Grant from EU Framework Programme 7
Amount € 598,263 (EUR)
Funding ID Caminems 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 07/2009 
End 06/2012
 
Description Research Programme Grant from the Leverhulme Trust
Amount £237,648 (GBP)
Funding ID RPG-2013-04 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2013 
End 04/2016
 
Description University of Oxford
Amount £7,600 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2012 
End 07/2012
 
Description Quantum Oxford 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Department of Physics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Application of adaptive laser writing methods to the manufacture of photonics devices for quantum optics.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise in quantum optics and applications of quantum photonics technology.
Impact Ongoing.
Start Year 2011
 
Title Adaptive correction of aberrations 
Description Method for laser fabrication at the edge of devices. 
IP Reference UK 1206542.1 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2012
Licensed No
Impact NA
 
Title Adaptive optics for combined pulse and phase front control 
Description Adaptive optics for combined pulse and phase front control of an ultrashort pulsed laser. 
IP Reference UK 1204846.8 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2012
Licensed No
Impact NA
 
Title Laser Fabrication System and Method 
Description Method for parallelised laser fabrication. 
IP Reference UK 1103814.8 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2011
Licensed No
Impact NA
 
Title Stimulated emission depletion microscopy 
Description Method for controlling a STED microscope using adaptive optics. 
IP Reference US 61/692,367 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted
Licensed No
Impact In process.
 
Company Name Opsydia Ltd 
Description Precision laser machining enabled by adaptive optical technologies for applications in security, branding and sensing. 
Year Established 2017 
Impact The company has already in the first few months a significant customer to which laser machining services are being provided. The company employs two full-time scientific staff.
Website http://www.opsydia.com