The new technology produces microscopic and nanoscopic resolution images that will one day help clinicians to examine cells inhabiting hard-to-reach parts of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract, and offer more effective diagnoses for diseases ranging from gastric cancer to bacterial meningitis.
We show for the first time that a single ultrasonic imaging fibre is capable of simultaneously accessing 3D spatial information and mechanical properties from microscopic objects. The novel measurement system consists of two ultrafast lasers that excite and detect high-frequency ultrasound from a nano-transducer that was fabricated onto the tip of a single-mode optical fibre. A signal processing technique was also developed to extract nanometric in-depth spatial measurements from GHz frequency acoustic waves, while still allowing Brillouin spectroscopy in the frequency domain. Label-free and non-contact imaging performance was demonstrated on various polymer microstructures. This singular device is equipped with optical lateral resolution, 2.5 μm, and a depth-profiling precision of 45 nm provided by acoustics. The endoscopic potential for this device is exhibited by extrapolating the single fibre to tens of thousands of fibres in an imaging bundle. Such a device catalyses future phonon endomicroscopy technology that brings the prospect of label-free in vivo histology within reach.