The NanoVision Centre: The gods of small things

Today, London's new NanoVision Centre unveils Britain's finest collection of high-power, cutting-edge microscopes. Rob Sharp meets the scientists with their eyes on the bigger picture

If you have ever wondered what the mayonnaise in your sandwich would look like close up, or what exactly solar panels are made of, or what unhealthy bone marrow does when it is, well, diseased, then your prayers are about to be answered. The University of London is opening one of Europe's most cutting-edge microscope facilities, boosting the university's research efforts and the country's technological clout and the pictures here give you the chance to peek down the eyepiece.

The new NanoVision Centre, at Queen Mary college, officially fires its first stream of electrons today, but in testing their equipment, they have come up with these stunning images. The centre, which researchers from across Britain will be able to use, boasts some of the best electron microscopes in Europe.

The centre will have the country's first "ultra-high-resolution 3D environmental scanning electron microscope". This piece of kit will allow the university's scientists to build up stunning and immensely useful pictures of human cells. This, the researchers say, will allow them to study the passage of viruses into cells in more detail. As the process is better understood, so medical science hopes it can combat illness more effectively.

Scanning electron microscopes project high-energy particles at the surface being examined. This excites the particles within it making them wobble and the microscope then detects where they are. They are many times more powerful than conventional light microscopes. The smallest objects they can see are just one nanometre that's a billionth of a metre (or one millionth of a millimetre).

Dr Andy Bushby, who heads up the 2.75m centre, explains: "It has taken about two years to get this thing together. The really exciting part is getting bang-up-to-date techniques and applying them to areas where they are not normally applied. It allows us to do things in medical research which we would not have been able to do even a year ago. For example, when looking at human cells in three dimensions, it allows us to see where things are within that cell in great detail. This spatial information is useful in immunology, in terms of how viruses get inside human cells; we can then find out what they associate with inside the cell, and therefore how they work.

"We are also pairing different microscopes together to work in concert, which allows us to do new things. For example, a 'scanning-probe microscope' allow us to find out how stiff a material is. We are putting this inside another microscope, so we have lots of ways of looking at something at the same time. This allows us, for example, to learn how biological structures behave in different ways.

"The latest kit has only just become available," he continues, "and that's why we have the most up-to-date technology in the UK. They really are hot from the factory. It's also timely these technologies are coming along at a time to fit in with the research we are doing."

And what else should we expect from a unit specialising in the ultra-tiny, but a suitably minuscule opening ceremony? The scientists will use a miniature robot to cut a microscopic fibre, a "nano-ribbon" atop a pinhead to mark the occasion.

Because the microscopes use electrons rather than light, all the images are initially received in black and white. But to make it easier for the eye to see textures, depth and contrast, as well as to distinguish different surfaces, colours are added by computer. These pictures show just a few of the NanoVision Centre's many imaging possibilities.

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
News
peopleJay Z and Beyoncé to buy £5.5m London townhouse
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
News
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence - Oxford An opportunity f...

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents