- Press Release Distribution

Unveiling a new era of imaging: Boston University engineers lead breakthrough microscopy techniques

BU engineers made significant advancements in the field of vibrational imaging

( When microscopes struggle to pick up faint signals, it’s like trying to spot subtle details in a painting or photograph without your glasses. For researchers, this makes it difficult to catch the small things happening in cells or other materials. In new research, Boston University Moustakas Chair Professor in Photonics and Optoelectronics, Dr. Ji-Xin Cheng and collaborators are creating more advanced techniques to make microscopes better at seeing tiny sample details, without needing special dyes. Their results, published in Nature Communications and Science Advances respectively, are helping scientists visualize and understand their samples in an easier manner, and with more accuracy.

In this Q&A, Dr. Cheng, who also serves as a professor in multiple departments at BU — biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, chemistry, and physics — delves into the findings uncovered in both research papers. He highlights the work he and his team currently have underway, and provides a comprehensive understanding of how these discoveries could impact the field of microscopy and, potentially, influence future scientific applications.

You and your research collaborators recently published two papers on microscopy in Nature Communications and Science Advances. What are the primary findings of each paper? These two papers aim to address a fundamental challenge in the rising field of vibrational imaging that is opening a new window for life science and material science. The challenge is how to push the detection limit so that vibrational imaging is as sensitive as fluorescence imaging, so that we can visualize target molecules at very low concentrations (micromolar to nanomolar) in a dye-free manner. Our innovation to address this fundamental challenge is to deploy photothermal microscopy to detect the chemical bonds in a specimen. After excitation of chemical bond vibration, the energy quickly dissipates into heat, causing a rise of temperature. This photothermal effect can be measured by a probe beam passing through the focus.

Our method is fundamentally different from coherent Raman scattering microscopy, a high-speed vibrational imaging platform described in my 2015 science review. Together, we have established a new class of chemical imaging tool box, termed as vibrational photothermal microscopy, or VIP microscopy. In the Nature Communications paper, we have developed a wide-field mid-infrared photothermal microscope to visualize the chemical content of a signal viral particle. In the Science Advances paper, we have developed a novel vibrational photothermal microscope that is based on the stimulated Raman process.

Were there any unexpected or surprising results in either paper? If so, how do these results challenge existing knowledge or theories around microscopy? Development of SRP microscopy was unexpected. We never believed the Raman effect was strong enough for photothermal microscopy, but our thoughts shifted in August of 2021. To celebrate my 50th birthday, my students and I organized a sports themed party. During the festivities, Yifan Zhu, the first author of the Science Advances paper, unfortunately sustained an injury, leading his doctor to recommend a two-month period of restricted mobility. During his recovery, I asked him to run a calculation of temperature rise in the focus of an SRS (stimulated Raman scattering) microscope. Through this accident, we found a strong stimulated Raman photothermal (SRP) effect. Yifan and other students then spent two years on the development. This is how SRP microscopy was invented.

Did the papers identify any limitations or gaps in their findings? How might these limitations impact the overall implications of the research? Certainly, nothing is perfect. In pursuing SRP microscopy, we found that each beam can have absorption, which causes a weak non-Raman background in the SRP image. We are developing a novel way to remove this background.

Do the findings of one paper complement or contradict the findings of the other? How do they relate to each other? The methods reported in these two papers are complimentary. The WIDE-MIP method is good for detecting IR-active bonds, while the SRP method is sensitive to Raman-active bonds.

Do the papers suggest new directions for future microscopy research that could have significant long-term implications? Yes, indeed. These two papers together indicate a novel class of chemical microscopy termed as vibrational photothermal microscopy or VIP microscopy. VIP microscopy offers a very sensitive way of probing specific chemical bonds; thus we can use them to map molecules of very low concentrations without dye labeling.

Are these imaging technologies currently available or being used by other researchers outside of your lab? We have filed provisional patents for both technologies via BU’s Technology Development office. At least two companies are interested in commercialization of the SRP technology and one of those is also interested in the WIDE-MIP technology as well.

Who are your key research collaborators? In the WIDE-MIP paper, the virus samples are provided by John Connor, an associate professor of microbiology at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories. The WIDE-MIP technology development is in collaboration with Selim Ünlü, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at BU’s College of Engineering. Thus, this is a collaborative work within Boston University.



New wearable communication system offers potential to reduce digital health divide

Wearable devices that use sensors to monitor biological signals can play an important role in health care. These devices provide valuable information that allows providers to predict, diagnose and treat a variety of conditions while improving access to care and reducing costs. However, wearables currently require significant infrastructure – such as satellites or arrays of antennas that use cell signals – to transmit data, making many of those devices inaccessible to rural and under-resourced communities. A group of University of Arizona researchers has set out to change that with a wearable monitoring device system that can send ...

In hotter regions, mammals seek forests, avoid human habitats

In hotter regions, mammals seek forests, avoid human habitats
The cool of the forest is a welcome escape on a hot day. This is especially true for mammals in North America’s hottest regions, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. The study indicates that, as the climate warms, preserving forest cover will be increasingly important for wildlife conservation. The study, published today in the journal PNAS, found that North American mammals — from pumas, wolves and bears to rabbits, deer and opossums — consistently depend on forests and avoid cities, farms and other human-dominated ...

Leukemia cells activate cellular recycling program

Leukemia cells activate cellular recycling program
FRANKFURT. In a recent study, scientists led by Professor Stefan Müller from Goethe University’s Institute of Biochemistry II investigated a specific form of blood cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. The disease mainly occurs in adulthood and often ends up being fatal for older patients. In about a third of AML patients, the cancer cells’ genetic material has a characteristic mutation that affects the so-called NPM1 gene, which contains the building instructions for a protein of the same name. While it was already known that the mutated NPM1 variant (abbreviated as ...

Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories partner with CMBlu Energy for innovative long-duration energy storage project

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, along with Idaho National Laboratory (INL), was chosen by the agency for a demonstration project to validate an innovative long-duration energy storage system developed by battery manufacturer CMBlu Energy. The collaborative project aims to improve microgrids in cold climates and make fast charging of electric vehicles more affordable in underserved communities.  Over the course of the project, Argonne and INL will deploy and evaluate CMBlu Energy’s Organic SolidFlow™ ...

CCNY researchers publish optical data storage breakthrough in Nature Nanotechnology

Physicists at The City College of New York have developed a technique with the potential to enhance optical data storage capacity in diamonds. This is possible by multiplexing the storage in the spectral domain. The research by Richard G. Monge and Tom Delord members of the Meriles Group in CCNY’s Division of Science, is entitled “Reversible optical data storage below the diffraction limit” and appears in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.   “It means that we can store many different images at the same place in the ...

Diet has a major impact on risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Diet has a major impact on risk of Alzheimer’s disease
December 4, 2023 San Francisco, CA: In a detailed study, Diet’s Role in Modifying Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: History and Present Understanding published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, we can finally see which diets are helpful in reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The role of diet in modifying the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is discussed in detail. Diets that are more plant based, like the Mediterranean diet and traditional diets in China, Japan, and India, are shown to reduce risk, especially ...

Study shows how ethical brands fare in a recession

Peer reviewed - observational study - people A new study from the University of East Anglia reveals why some ‘eco goods’ may fare better than others as a UK recession looms. A new study, published today, shows that when money gets tight, people are more likely to keep up more expensive ethical purchases like buying fair trade products. The study is one of the first to look at ethical purchases using actual market data from a major UK supermarket chain. Lead researcher Dr Jibonayan Raychaudhuri, from UEA’s School of Economics, said: “As a possible UK recession looms closer, we wanted to better understand how people’s spending ...

New technique efficiently offers insight into gene regulation

New technique efficiently offers insight into gene regulation
Researchers from the group of Jop Kind developed a new technique called MAbID. This allows them to simultaneously study different mechanisms of gene regulation, which plays a major role in development and disease. MAbID offers new insights into how these mechanisms work together or against each other. The results were published in Nature Methods on the 4th of December. DNA is the most important carrier of genetic information. Each cell contains approximately two meters of DNA. To ensure that all this genetic material fits into the small cell nucleus, it must be tightly packed. The DNA is therefore wrapped around a special type of protein, a histone. The ...

U of M Medical School study finds visions of nonphysical world are common among cognitively healthy Ojibwe individuals

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (12/04/2023) — Visual hallucinations are common among people with Lewy body dementia and other types of dementia. Identifying visual hallucinations is an important component of a wide variety of medical and psychiatric diagnoses and treatments, but without cultural context, some patients’ symptoms can be misinterpreted or misdiagnosed. In existing medical literature, there is almost no information regarding normal spiritual experiences in American Indian participants in the context of a neurocognitive evaluation. University of Minnesota Medical School researchers sought to understand how Ojibwe culture and spirituality affect a doctor’s assessment ...

Consistency key to corporate expressions of racial solidarity

ITHACA, N.Y. – Why do some corporate expressions of solidarity with marginalized groups register as genuine, while others seem performative or even backfire? An analysis of statements by Fortune 500 companies following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd finds that costly actions, such as donating money to social justice groups, aren’t enough to convey allyship to Black Americans. Companies must also demonstrate a consistent, long-term commitment to diversity and racial equity, according to research co-authored by James T. Carter,  assistant ...


Nanoscale topcoat can turbocharge supported gold nanoparticle catalysts

Beyond the ink: Painting with physics

Only 9 percent of older Americans were vaccinated against RSV before the disease hit this fall and winter

Evolution-capable AI promotes green hydrogen production using more abundant chemical elements

In wake of powerful cyclone, remarkable recovery of Pacific island’s forests

PSU study sheds light on 2020 extreme weather event that brought fires and snow to western US

Rice physicist earns NSF CAREER Award to revolutionize quantum technology

Mining the treasures locked away in produced water

Minoritized groups face high anxiety when taking part in research experiments

Orcas demonstrating they no longer need to hunt in packs to take down the great white shark

Scientists discover a novel vehicle for antibiotic resistance

Large-scale study explores link between smoking and DNA changes across six racial and ethnic groups

EU funding for outstanding early-career researcher Pieter Gunnink

Associate Professor Ron Korstanje, Ph.D., of The Jackson Laboratory named Evnin Family Chair

Researchers create coating solution for safer food storage

An overgrowth of nerve cells appears to cause lingering symptoms after recurrent UTIs

New findings on the immune system

Most smokers in England wrongly believe vaping is at least as harmful as smoking

New antibodies target “dark side” of influenza virus protein

Fred Hutch announces 2024 Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award recipients

New academic journal on artificial intelligence launched

UMaine researchers use GPS-tracked icebergs in novel study to improve climate models

A mental process that leads to putting off an unpleasant task

The role of history in how efficient color names evolve

AI outperforms humans in standardized tests of creative potential

Study results show 25% of pregnant people are not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids from their diet or dietary supplements

Cleveland Clinic researchers uncover how virus causes cancer, point to potential treatment

SLU professor studies link between adversity, psychiatric and cognitive decline

Warwick to benefit from £2.5 million funding into “phenomenal” metamaterials

More schooling is linked to slowed aging and increased longevity

[] Unveiling a new era of imaging: Boston University engineers lead breakthrough microscopy techniques
BU engineers made significant advancements in the field of vibrational imaging