A newly updated version of the humble glass microscope slide can now enable scientists to see tiny objects while also measuring their temperature, a study has found.
The advance, made possible by a new transparent coating, has the potential to streamline and enhance scientific research worldwide, from clandestine government biology labs to high school chemistry classes.
The finding, published in the journal Nature Communications, may also have implications in other industries, such as computers and electronics, which require measurement and control of heat in highly confined spaces.
"We have instruments that magnify incredibly small objects. And we have tools that measure heat, like infrared thermometers," said Ruogang Zhao, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo in the US.
"But we haven't been able to combine them in a low-cost and reliable manner. This new coating takes a big step in that direction," said Zhao.
For decades, researchers have tried to combine thermal imaging and microscopy.
Images produced from systems that use thermocouples lack resolution and are often too coarse for modern science, researchers said.
Terahertz and infrared thermal mapping techniques interfere with the microscope's lenses. Other techniques are expensive and time-consuming, they said.
The new coating is made of a layer of acrylic glass (the same material used in most eyeglasses) that is sandwiched between two layers of transparent gold.
The gold is transparent because it is only 20 nanometres thick; a typical sheet of paper is 100,000 nanometres thick.
Engineers fabricated the coating so that "exceptional points" - the sweet spots where unusual light behaviour happens - can develop within the tri-layered structure.
The coating, which significantly enhances the slide's sensitivity to light detection, would be added to slides during the manufacturing process.
Either the slide or cover slip could receive the coating. To make use of the new coating, a laser is needed, researchers said.
Zhao said a common helium-neon laser, which can be seamlessly integrated with most microscopes, will do the job.
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