Scientists can now see molecules and objects clearer than ever before

Discovery paves the way for new breakthroughs in materials, molecular science, semiconductors and much more

A team of scientists from Complutense University have managed to bypass a theoretical limit on optical resolution, allowing them to see more sharply than ever before. Their results are published in a paper in the journal Optica.

Every optical system – whether it is a telescope, a microscope, a camera, or something else, has a fundamental limit on its resolution and at a certain point, if two objects are small enough and close enough together, it becomes impossible to tell them apart.

In physics, this fundamental limit is called the Rayleigh limit, and it prevents telescopes and microscopes from seeing past a certain point. This is due to quantum effects that blur the image. Beyond the Rayleigh limit, two points that are close enough together are indistinguishable and appear as a single point. But an international team of physicists managed to overcome the Rayleigh limit, and developed a technique to distinguish two objects at up to 17 times the resolution possible before.

Traditional optics only measures the intensity, or brightness, of light in order to create an image but this new technique collects additional information from the observed light, allowing for sharper and more refined images. And while this might not seem like a big deal, at a time when we are observing atoms interacting for the first time, creating transitors that are only one nanometer wide, and trying to peer further into space and into the inner workings of molecules this new breakthrough could herald new breakthroughs in astronomy, material science, molecular research and even semiconductors.

The devil’s always in the detail.

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