London, June 14 : Scientists are working on an electron microscope, small enough to fit onto a fingertip, which they reckon would be four times more powerful than the best microscopes available these days.
The designers of the new scanning electron microscope (SEM) say that it would focus a beam of electrons rather than light, and be capable of producing stunning images of tiny structures with a 3D appearance.
Physicist Derek Eastham of UK firm NFAB believes that it may be possible to distinguish structures as small as 0.01 nanometres, about four times better than the current best resolution of 0.05 nanometres.
He says that the electrostatic lens he has used in his design still contains imperfections that will limit the microscope's resolution, but the effect should be much smaller.
He says that his design produces a beam with around 100 times less energy than usual in an SEM, which is a major achievement because cutting power consumption addresses one of the greatest costs of SEM technology.
Eastham says that using lower power might also help study delicate structures like untreated proteins and DNA, which are normally destroyed by electron microscopes.
Other microscopy experts say that Eastham's team is on the right track, but they think resolutions of 0.01 nanometres are unlikely.
"The basic concept is certainly correct," New Scientists magazine quoted David Joy at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, US, as saying.
He, however, added that the idea had proven hard to put into practice.