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J Microsc. 2004 Jan;213(Pt 1):11-9.

Measurement of specimen-induced aberrations of biological samples using phase stepping interferometry.

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  • 1Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PJ, UK.


Confocal or multiphoton microscopes, which deliver optical sections and three-dimensional (3D) images of thick specimens, are widely used in biology. These techniques, however, are sensitive to aberrations that may originate from the refractive index structure of the specimen itself. The aberrations cause reduced signal intensity and the 3D resolution of the instrument is compromised. It has been suggested to correct for aberrations in confocal microscopes using adaptive optics. In order to define the design specifications for such adaptive optics systems, one has to know the amount of aberrations present for typical applications such as with biological samples. We have built a phase stepping interferometer microscope that directly measures the aberration of the wavefront. The modal content of the wavefront is extracted by employing Zernike mode decomposition. Results for typical biological specimens are presented. It was found for all samples investigated that higher order Zernike modes give only a small contribution to the overall aberration. Therefore, these higher order modes can be neglected in future adaptive optics sensing and correction schemes implemented into confocal or multiphoton microscopes, leading to more efficient designs.

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