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Scientists at La Trobe University have shed new light on transparent, microscopic or nano-thin biological samples making them far more visible under a microscope without having to use dyes or markers.

Combining custom-designed nanomaterials with a traditional phase contrast microscopy technique, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) physicist, Professor Brian Abbey and his team, have discovered a novel method to improve traditional phase contrast microscopy and, in so doing, reveal minute changes to previously invisible cell structures.

The new microscopy technique, enabled through the fabrication capabilities of ANFF, reveals nanoscale cell features which have the potential to advance research into the understanding and detection of disease among many other applications. This discovery, detailed in Nature Photonics, will have far reaching benefits to researchers in numerous other fields across the globe.

The research team’s device development and fabrication was undertaken at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN)¬†in the Victorian Node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF). This centre hosts a critical mass of engineering talent alongside world class tools to enable Australians to take their research to the next level.

Combining cutting-edge technologies with the knowledge and skills of expert process engineers, MCN’s world-class nanofabrication centre was used to enhance the sensitivity of phase contrast microscopy. The team used MCN’s Electron Beam Evaporation equipment to deposit the silver coating, before using the Centre’s Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscope (FIB-SEM) to mill out the crucial nanometre-sized crosses.

Located in the South-East Melbourne Innovation Precinct, MCN and the Australian National Fabrication Facility enables research institutions and industry around the world to partner, collaborate and innovate.

This international project was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre, the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and IIT, Italy and you can read more at