from the April 2013 issue

Futuristic 'microscope' sees through skin

Israeli team invents a simple new imaging tool that brings us one step closer to 'X-ray vision.'

It might not give us humans Superman vision just yet, and it could take at least 10 years to develop it into a commercial product, but a new discovery by a research team from Israel's Weitzmann Institute of Science in Rehovot has paved the way for an exciting medical advance.

Ori Katz and Eran Small, under the guidance of Prof. Yaron Silberberg, have developed a tool for seeing through semi-opaque objects such as human skin or eggshells. They believe this foundational research paves the way for a new kind of microscope, one that can see inside deep tissues and could one day do away with the need for cancer biopsies.

Their handmade invention, based on simple, cheap and readily available equipment, can also see around corners. While they are not the first in the world to be able to achieve these feats, they are the first to do it without the use of lasers -- and they can do it in real time.

Surprisingly sophomoric science
"Other teams used special lasers and scanned their target point by point," says Katz. "Our technique is more straightforward and it can be done in such a way that any second-year physics college student can understand what's going on."

A simple digital camera, regular halogen light and a spatial light modulator found in digital projectors enabled this advance, says Katz. The field is called "wave front shaping," and it allowed the team to study how light is absorbed by a semi-opaque object and then scattered.

"For us it was very surprising when it did actually work," says Katz, who will continue his post-doctoral research in Paris for a few years.

While a human body, for instance, doesn't appear to be transparent, when you shine a flashlight on the back of your hand in the dark, you'll see that some light does shine through, Katz explains. This is called "scattered light."

Once it was thought to be too difficult to make sense of scattered light, because it appeared to be incredibly random and chaotic. But now with new HD imaging screens the researchers can amplify and analyze the scattering patterns.

By developing an algorithm that projects the inverse pattern, the researchers are able to detail what can be found inside an object that the naked eye could never decipher.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report April 2013

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