Innovative researchers from Khimki, near Moscow, have thought up how to look inside matter “with the help of a finger”. This is exactly the thing: on their mobile phones users can simply indicate their “point of research”, and the electronic device will analyze it on atomic level!
What is beneficial about “Russian style” optical navigation? And what can looking into the depths of a substance “through an eyepiece” created by inventors of equipment of the next generation give Chelyabinsk researchers? This was the topic of conversation with one of the authors of the know-how from the Interlab innovative laboratory, Evgeniy Kremer, with whom we met at the recent science-to-practice conference in Chelyabinsk.
Optical Navigation “Russian Style”!
— Where did the idea of crossbreeding an electron microscope and cell phone come from?
— For complicated devices of this kind, one of the oldest problems has been choosing a goal. They only see the object being studied close up – with a minimum 30x magnification! If it’s something large, it is very difficult to find the area you whish to study. Large objects have to be manually moved, and the motion knob must be turned. The accuracy of finding what you need is horrible, and a lot of time is wasted on this. My co-authors Igor Chistyakov, German Reshetnikov, and I mulled this over and found an original solution – involve mobile phones! The biggest difficulty was to ensure high accuracy of movement: the minimal “step” is 30 nanometers! In comparison, the thickness of a human hair is 60 thousand nm.
— And still you were able to do this…
— We wrote a program for Android, built Bluetooth into a table, and installed stepper motors controlled by a joystick and a smartphone. Now, we take a photograph with a cell phone, choose places of interest on the display, note them, and the motorized table automatically moves to the electron microscope. There is no need to turn anything – the Japanese microscope already knows where it needs to look and magnifies the image hundreds of thousands of times. The whole atomic structure of the selected spot is in plain sight! How come did the microscope creators of the Hitachi company not think of this!? When we presented our development at the end of last year, all they could do was nod and throw up their hands…
— How about creating your own electron microscope?
— We cannot do this alone. In the world today there are only five large developers and manufacturers of this kind of technology – two in Japan, one company in Germany, one in the Netherlands, and one in the Czech Republic. Earlier, there was another company in the USA but they closed production. This kind of technology does not exist in America, China, or Russia! In the Soviet times in Sumy, Ukraine, they tried to manufacture electron microscopes, but those quickly got obsolete, and after the fall of the USSR, were removed from production. It is impossible to enter this market from scratch – you’d need huge investments.
But still we are ready to improve the products by “microgiants” and adapt them to the needs of the Russian science. One of our thoughts is to “lay” the studied material inside an “electronic eye”! For example, if you stretch out an atomic lattice, how does the structure of a substance change?
Raising the “Optical Limit”
— What can your microscope research give to the Chelyabinsk Region?
— In Chelyabinsk universities, the electronic microscopes, according to the Head of the SUSU Laboratory of Physical Research Denis Isakov, are mostly obsolete and do not always match modern requirements. Our equipment is more modern, universal, and features the highest resolution. We are even prepared to offer South Ural researchers a table-top electron microscope which is easy to move from one place to another.
But there is also something to learn from Chelyabinsk residents! At the meeting with Professor Yuri Miklyaev, Doctor of Sciences (Physics and Mathematics) from the SUSU Department of Optoinformatics, and Associate Professor Sergey Asselborn, we spoke about our developments for increasing resolution of optical microscopes. As a scanner, they use a special suspension of microparticles which is put on the sample. We were able to experimentally increase the microscope’s resolution by 6 times to 96 nanometers!
— What else is surprising in Chelyabinsk optics?
— The creative group under Professor Yuri Miklyayev obtained fantastic results in laser microstructuring of optic elements. Recording microstructures, or so-called Bragg gratings in optical fibers is a special kind of communication channel which can find many applications. For example, this innovative technology can be used to research the quality of road work or viaducts – optical sensors offer the most accurate information on pressure, temperature, and deformation of roadway and bridge structures. This new technology can be used in the oil industry to “diagnose the health” of pipelines and wells.
We are ready to share our research and take the best from the developments by Chelyabinsk researchers for ourselves.
— And can we look inside matter without expensive optical electronics? Is there an alternative?
— The chemical method can become a sort of an alternative to electron microsope analysis. And we have advanced much in this field! For example, we engineered and manufactured a gas chromatograph, Maestro-2ГХ, and an attachment for it – mass spectrometer Maestro-αМС (today there are no analogs to this in Russia), equipped with a ceramic source of ionization constructed by our engineers. This unique equipment gained medals at the recent all-Russian exhibition Analitika-Expo in Moscow in 2017.
— Where can this be used?
— Our chromatograph (of two kinds – gas and liquid chromatographs) can separate a mixture of biological or vegetation origin into parts, and the toxicological analyzer based on a mass spectrometer can determine what the substance is. For example, alcohol or drugs in blood, or remainders of explosive materials after a terrorist attack! The express screening system for drugs uses our extraction tubes. Putting a drop of blood into a test tube with our patented composition, you can remove the “irrelevant”, leaving only substance with narcotic properties.
Besides police, legal structures, and forensic analysts, this equipment is already used in chemical, pharmaceutical, and food production, where it immediately detects impurities in low quality raw materials or in final products.
— What possibilities can be opened in medicine?
— One other our invention, a microbiology analyzer, can be used to quickly detect causative agents. It has already been tested successfully. The classic method – cultures – requires 3-4 days to mature, while our universal device determines the nature of bacteria within just an hour! Their cell walls have substances called polysaccharides – we “clip” these chemically, determine the mass of the molecules, and comparing to a standard, we can determine bacteria.
This method was developed together with Doctor of Sciences (Biology), Professor of the Institute of Academic Toxicology, Georgy Osipov. Right now, we are improving it, increasing the quantity of microbe markers. They do not repeat, they can be compared to a person’s fingerprints! I think that our diagnosis will be helpful to Chelyabinsk medical staff who are switching electronic medical records, from which our developments will make it possible to obtain any information on patient’s health. In the future, the electronic library which we are creating can help artificial intelligence assist doctors and make a “virtual diagnosis” and offer advice on treatment.
Adapted from web-site up74.ru