Atomic Force Microscopes (AFMs) let researchers around the world see the smallest phenomena imaginable as they unfold at the nanoscale. To capture an image of something that is 1/60,000 of the diameter of a human hair, AFMs use a laser to measure the forces between single atoms and use this information to generate high-resolution images. This technology has opened researchers' eyes to the tiniest wonders of our world, but they aren't seeing things as clearly as they could be. For certain biophysical experiments, AFMs are mounted on optical microscopes to enable the measurement of forces perpendicular to the microscope slide. However, AFMs have difficulty measuring forces that are parallel to the microscope's slide, preventing the measurement of forces for a whole class of interesting phenomena.
While working on his PhD at McGill University, Aleksander Labuda devised a simple-sounding solution to this technical issue: redesign an AFM to operate perpendicular to the microscope's slide. But this was only the first step. To achieve his vision, Dr. Labuda had to devise, from scratch, an "optical periscope" that re-routes the AFM's laser beam to travel along the new, perpendicular optical pathway.
Dr. Labuda's invention will be a valuable tool for the research being done by thousands of labs around the world that use these microscopes. With nanoscience positioned as the next frontier for science discovery, Dr. Labuda's technology is giving researchers the tools they need to measure microscopic forces in phenomena in fields ranging from biology to physics and mechanical engineering.