Non-invasive imaging through opaque scattering layers

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Non-invasive optical imaging techniques, such as optical coherence tomography1,2,3, are essential diagnostic tools in many disciplines, from the life sciences to nanotechnology. However, present methods are not able to image through opaque layers that scatter all the incident light4,5. Even a very thin layer of a scattering material can appear opaque and hide any objects behind it6. Although great progress has been made recently with methods such as ghost imaging7,8 and wavefront shaping9,10,11, present procedures are still invasive because they require either a detector12 or a nonlinear material13 to be placed behind the scattering layer. Here we report an optical method that allows non-invasive imaging of a fluorescent object that is completely hidden behind an opaque scattering layer. We illuminate the object with laser light that has passed through the scattering layer. We scan the angle of incidence of the laser beam and detect the total fluorescence of the object from the front. From the detected signal, we obtain the image of the hidden object using an iterative algorithm14,15. As a proof of concept, we retrieve a detailed image of a fluorescent object, comparable in size (50 micrometres) to a typical human cell, hidden 6 millimetres behind an opaque optical diffuser, and an image of a complex biological sample enclosed between two opaque screens. This approach to non-invasive imaging through strongly scattering media can be generalized to other contrast mechanisms and geometries.

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Figure 1: Schematic of the apparatus for non-invasive imaging through strongly scattering layers.
Figure 2: Experimental retrieval of the hidden object’s autocorrelation.
Figure 3: Comparison of the retrieved image with the hidden object.
Figure 4: Retrieval of a complex, biological structure.


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We thank W. L. Barnes for discussions and for reading the manuscript, and M. Claessens, V. Subramaniam and J. Schleipen for discussions and for help with samples and equipment. This work is supported by the Stichting Technische Wetenschappen and the Stichting voor Fundamenteel Onderzoek der Materie, which are financially supported by the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO). J.B. acknowledges a grant by FIRB-MIUR ‘Futuro in Ricerca’ (project RBFR08UH60). A.P.M. acknowledges a ‘Vidi’ grant from NWO and European Research Council grant no. 279248.

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Correspondence to Jacopo Bertolotti.

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Bertolotti, J., van Putten, E., Blum, C. et al. Non-invasive imaging through opaque scattering layers. Nature 491, 232–234 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11578

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