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The main advantage of confocal microscopes over their conventional counterparts is their ability to optically "section" thick specimens; the thin image slices thus obtained can be used to reconstruct three-dimensional images, a capability which is particularly useful in biological applications. However, it is well known that the resolution and optical sectioning ability can be severely degraded by system or specimen-induced aberrations. The use of high aperture lenses further exacerbates the problem. Moreover, aberrations can considerably reduce the number of photons that reach the detector, leading to lower contrast. It is rather unfortunate, therefore, that in practical microscopy, aberration-free confocal imaging is rarely achieved. Adaptive optics systems, which have been used widely to correct aberrations in astronomy, offer a solution here but also present new challenges. The optical system and the source of aberrations in a confocal microscope are considerably different and require a novel approach to wavefront sensing. This method, based upon direct measurement of Zernike aberration modes, also exhibits an axial selectivity similar to that of a confocal microscope. We demonstrate an adaptive confocal fluorescence microscope incorporating this modal sensor together with a deformable membrane mirror for aberration correction. Aberration corrected images of biological specimens show considerable improvement in contrast and apparent restoration of axial resolution.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





5788 - 5792


Fourier Analysis, Microscopy, Confocal, Models, Statistical, Models, Theoretical, Optics and Photonics