November 14, 2022

Cui lab at Purdue develops an optical gearbox to accelerate multiphoton imaging

Purdue University researchers have developed a device that would speed up imaging tools that are currently available.
Illustration of optical gearbox
This provided illustration of the optical gearbox depicts how imaging tools can be sped up.

Purdue University researchers have developed a device that would speed up imaging tools that are currently available. Meng Cui, associate professor in the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says the higher frame rate imaging will allow for better in vivo observation of fast biological dynamics.

Cui says the device operates in the scanner like a gearbox in a car. For example, when you are driving uphill, the gearbox allows you to shift to a gear that is a slower speed but the torque is higher. Cui says essentially, current imaging systems only have one gear. The gearbox developed through his research allows the imaging system to zoom in while the scanning rate gets faster. In comparison, by zooming in N times, the conventional imaging systems can achieve N times faster frame rate, but the gearbox system can achieve N square times faster frame rate. Cui says this faster imaging is crucial to understanding the function and mechanism of biological systems.

Another key advance of the optical gearbox is that it allows using the polygon scanner for ~100% duty cycle highly linear scanning with flexible zoom and extremely high throughput. In the past, despite the advantages of purely linear scanning and high speed, polygon scanner is not widely used in multiphoton imaging as it lacks zoom and its duty cycle is not 100%. Now with the help of the optical gearbox, both problems are eliminated. The optical gearbox opens the door for the polygon scanner to become the optimal solution for high-speed multiphoton imaging.

“The gearbox can convert these conventional systems from 10s Hz rate to 1000s Hz rate,” says Cui. “With this rate, we can visualize how neurons “talk” to each other in the brain and how blood flows in the brain. This provides an enhanced capability to understand complex biological systems such as the brain.”

The research has recently been published in the journal Nature Communications and is funded by the NIH BRAIN initiative. The gearbox has been patented by Purdue. The next step is commercialization and broad dissemination of the optical gearbox technology. The team has recently submitted a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build the commercial prototype.