Adaptive optics (AO) is a technique that corrects for optical aberrations. It was originally proposed to correct for the blurring effect of atmospheric turbulence on images in ground-based telescopes and was instrumental in the work that resulted in the Nobel prize-winning discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy. When AO is used to correct for the eye’s imperfect optics, retinal changes at the cellular level can be detected, allowing us to study the operation of the visual system and to assess ocular health in the microscopic domain. By correcting for sample-induced blur in microscopy, AO has pushed the boundaries of imaging in thick tissue specimens, such as when observing neuronal processes in the brain. In this primer, we focus on the application of AO for high-resolution imaging in astronomy, vision science and microscopy. We begin with an overview of the general principles of AO and its main components, which include methods to measure the aberrations, devices for aberration correction, and how these components are linked in operation. We present results and applications from each field along with reproducibility considerations and limitations. Finally, we discuss future directions.
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D.T.M. and K.K. acknowledge support from the NIH grants R01 EY018339 and R01 EY029808. N.J. acknowledges support from the NIH grant U01NS103489. M.J.B., K.M.H. and R.T. acknowledge support from the European Research Council 695140.
D.T.M. and K.K. have a patent on AO-OCT technology. Both authors stand to benefit financially from any commercialization of the technology. N.J. has two patents on AO microscopy technology. M.J.B. holds patents on adaptive optics technology and has significant interests in the companies Opsydia Ltd and Aurox Ltd. Otherwise, the authors are not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding or financial holdings that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this publication. K.M.H., R.T. and J.R.M. declare no competing interests.
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Keck NIRC2 imager: https://www2.keck.hawaii.edu/inst/nirc2/post_observing.html
The Gemini Science Archive: https://archive.gemini.edu/searchform
The Keck Observatory Archive: https://www2.keck.hawaii.edu/koa/public/koa.php
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The ESO Science Archive Facility: http://archive.eso.org/cms.html
- Optical field
Describes the distribution of light as an electrical field across space and time in terms of amplitude, phase, frequency and polarization.
Reduction of an effect by modulation of the optical field through introducing the opposite effect.
All rays being brought to meet at one point.
- Optical path length
The length of the path followed by a light ray multiplied by the refractive index of the medium.
- Pupil plane
Aperture stop location.
All rays are parallel to each other.
There are no aberrations present in the focus. The minimum focal diameter is limited by diffraction owing to the wave nature of light.
- Focal length
The distance between a lens and where the rays meet the optical axis for incoming collimated light.
- Strehl ratio
The ratio of the intensity of the peak of the aberrated point spread function (PSF) to that of the diffraction-limited PSF.
- Noll convention
Mathematical description of aberrated wavefront shapes as proposed by Noll.
Miniature lenses usually as part of an array.
Elements that deform the mirror.
- Dynamic range
The range between the smallest and largest measurable values.
A mathematical function basis that is confined in both space and frequency.
- Influence function
The shape of modulation produced by a device when a signal, such as voltage, is sent to one actuator or pixel.
- Monochromatic polarized light
Light of a single wavelength with a structured oscillation of the electric field.
Maximal physical distance that an adaptive element can move, which limits the optical path length of phase modulation that can be imparted.
- Phase wrapping
Representation of the phase information within the range [0,2π] or [−π, π] radians by adding or subtracting multiples of 2π.
- Closed-loop bandwidth
The maximum frequency fluctuation that an adaptive optics system can fully or partially correct.
- Flood illumination
A traditional ophthalmoscopy modality based on flash photography in which the image of the illuminated retina is captured by an area detector.
100 nm-sized vesicles that are used to bring substances inside the cell.
Specialized subunit within a cell with a specific function such as the Golgi complex, the endoplasmic reticulum or the mitochondrion.
- Growth cone
Subcellular machinery used for cell migration.
Junctions between neurons through which information flows.
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Hampson, K.M., Turcotte, R., Miller, D.T. et al. Adaptive optics for high-resolution imaging. Nat Rev Methods Primers 1, 68 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43586-021-00066-7
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