Allan Mitchell explains the strengths and the limitations of the transmission electron microscope.
The transmission electron microscope’s particular strengths are its resolution – it can achieve far higher resolution than light microscopy – and it’s used for looking at internal features in comparison with the scanning microscope, which looks at surface features. So if you want to look at things that are going on within your sample at high resolution, then the transmission electron microscope is the tool.
We’ve looked at everything from chocolate samples through to seaweed samples. We look at viruses. We look at the way brain cells talk to each other. We look at particular organelles and their role within the cells. We look at nanoparticle drug delivery systems. All these samples can be looked at inside the transmission electron microscope as long as the electron beam can pass through.
The limitations of the transmission electron microscope, really, from a biological perspective, the sample has to be dead, so you have to have quite an elaborate processing procedure to stabilise the cell so it will survive inside the microscope and be able to be cut very, very thin.
Allan Mitchell, University of Otago