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Catching the cell in action

A powerful new microscope can peer into the living cell

By
10:09am, May 19, 2008

Scientists have made a powerful version of the light microscope that can peer into a living cell.

Until now, the ordinary light microscope couldn’t clearly see objects smaller than about 200 nanometers by 600 nanometers – about one-tenth of the size of the average bacterium. While that seems tiny, it’s bigger than many of the parts inside a cell. In contrast, the new microscope can image objects that are as small as 40 nanometers across, says Stefan Hell, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

“If we could see objects that were as big as a football before,

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