Mini maps: New angle sensor allows microscopic measurements at video speeds

Peering through a microscope reveals all sorts of information—the structure, composition and even atomic arrangement of a sample material. But quantifying what’s visualized by the microscope is very tricky, since specialized tools are often needed to make such tiny measurements.

When researchers want to map and measure the topography—the overall form and features on the surface of a sample—they rely on large benchtop gadgets called white light interferometers, which measure features all the way down to tens of nanometers.

The problem, however, is that these interferometers take up to a minute to produce a single measurement. That’s much too slow to record changes over time.

Now a new ultra-compact angle sensor built from flat optics captures these measurements at 30 frames per second, allowing high-resolution video capability. A team led by Zongfu Yu, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, created the sensor, described in the Oct. 13, 2021, issue of Nature Communications.

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