tiny stars

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Adaptive optics gets better all the time at sifting out noise and interference from beams of light, as the actuators and sensors involved become more responsive and the number-crunching gets faster. But after getting itself established in large-scale sciences like astronomy, where firing lasers into the upper atmosphere to create temporary guide stars isn’t a novelty any more, AO is starting to turn up in applications at the opposite end of the scale.

Last month I spoke to a team at Oxford University who are using AO in super-resolution microscopy, a technique which already tweaks the optics to peer more closely at a specimen than the physics normally allows, and which might soon be able to peer even harder.

And in Maryland, a group at the medical research institute founded by Howard Hughes is applying the astronomers’ macro-scale approach to fluorescence microscopy, creating guide stars only a few microns across in the brains of live zebrafish embryos. An idea to conjure with.