Single Stationary Microscope Lens Can Capture 3D Images

One Millimeter Ballpoint Pen Tip Viewed Through The Lens

Courtesy Ohio State University

Engineers at Ohio State University have created the first stand-alone, stationary lens that can create microscopic 3-D images. Up until now, 3-D microscopes needed multiple lenses or movable cameras to capture all sides of an object. With this lens, viewers can capture nine different angles of a microscopic object at once.

Postdoctoral researcher Lei Li wrote a computer program to create the lens; then he and Ohio State associate professor Allen Yi cut the lens from acrylic glass, a type of transparent plastic, with a diamond blade. The finished product is shaped like a rhinestone, with a flat top and eight surrounding facets. Unlike a gem cut for jewelry, though, these facets are not symmetrical. Each one captures images from a different angle. The images from each facet are then combined on a computer to form the 3-D image.

The engineers have successfully used the lens to create 3-D images of a ballpoint pen tip, measuring about one millimeter across, and a tiny drill bit that has a diameter of 0.2 millimeters. The technology is intended to help simplify the currently complex machinery manufacturers use to produce tiny components. While the prototype lens was created with a precision cutting machine, the researchers say it could be produced less expensively with more traditional molding.