Editorial Feature

Applications of 3D Microscopy

The technical field of microscopy deals with the use of different types of microscopes to view and study samples and objects that otherwise cannot be viewed with the naked eye. Microscopy can be broadly classified into three categories - optical, electron and scanning probe microscopy.

Microscopy has helped to revolutionize biology, and plays an important role in life and physical sciences. The microscope is a very important tool in the hands of scientists, as it allows viewing of mineral samples, or animal/plant cells, by magnifying them several hundred times.

The need for 3D microscopy is compelling, as many of the applications in the above-mentioned fields are in three dimensional form.

Over the last decade, microscopy has evolved drastically in terms of imaging hardware and digital image acquisition, processing, investigation, and reconstruction methods - thereby enabling very rapid and precise acquisition and analysis of 3D micrographic data at resolutions higher than ever before.

The following article looks closely at the applications of specialized 3D microscopy.


Intravital multiphoton microscopy is used widely in the modern biological laboratory. It is capable of providing a powerful 3D mechanistic vision that will help understand health and disease in a better way. It allows repeated measurements of lymphangiogenesis, tumor angiogenesis and tissue viability, as well as vascular and cellular responses to therapy.

Confocal microscopy allows the analysis of colloidal gels, binary fluids, and glasses. More specifically, the 3D positions of colloidal particles can be studied with a precision of nearly 50nm, and with a time resolution that is ideal for tracking the thermal motions of several thousand particles at the same time.

3D confocal microscopy has even been used for studying the living eye, in a tremendous breakthrough in instrumentation for biomicroscopy of the eye.

The data taken from this microscopy can be transformed, by computer visualization methods, into 3D volume images of ocular tissues - such as cornea, retina, ocular lens, and optic nerve. Likewise, the clinical confocal microscope has been successfully used in new diagnostic processes, and new cellular descriptions of ocular disorders and pathology.

Measuring cellular traction forces is an area of growing interest, as the mechanical properties of cellular microenvironments are capable of directing many significant cellular processes, such as migration, spreading and differentiation.

A technique has been devised to combine laser scanning confocal microscopy with digital volume correlation, so as to enable the tracking and quantification of cell-mediated deformation of extracellular matrix in three spatial dimensions.

3D X-ray tomographic microscopy enables the imaging of trabecular bone architecture. This will enable examination of the earliest stages of hypoestrogenemic bone loss, and to quickly test the effectiveness of new clinical treatments for this health issue.

Technological advancements in the coming years will certainly help push the boundaries of microscopy to greater heights.


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