There are two rules for making an optical microscope; the lenses must be small, since defects of colour and focus increase with lens size, and the lenses must capture light from the object over as wide an angle as possible to record fine detail. This was understood a century ago, however, lasers, computers and chemically-specific labels have produced an explosion of development recently.
To see molecular detail, a hundredfold improvement in resolution is needed, but has not yet been obtained. A new method will be described, which can show anatomy at the scale of micrometres and subcellular detail in the same image of a specimen such as a mouse embryo. This is the first microscope system to disobey the ‘small lens’ rule.
Brad Amos is an Emeritus Research Group Leader in the MRC Lab of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and a Visiting Scientist in the University of Strathclyde. With John White and others in LMB, he pioneered the optomechanical development of the biological laser-scanning confocal microscope in the mid-80s and demonstrated its usefulness for biomedical work with fluorescent probes. This had world-wide impact in fields ranging from cell and developmental biology, neurobiology and even in fields of materials science such as geology. His main current interest is in extending the confocal microscope to cover larger volumes, so that every cell in a piece of tissue or entire mouse embryo 6mm long can be recorded in three dimensions with subcellular detail.
The Leeuwenhoek Lecture is given triennially. It was originally established to recognise excellence in the field of microbiology but now also includes excellence in bacteriology, virology, mycology and parasitology, and microscopy.