This Mighty Microscope Is Kind To Living Things

Today's most sophisticated microscopes offer amazingly clear views of individual atoms. And more surprises are in the offing from a new breed of X-ray microscope. These tools will never quite match the resolution of the best electron microscopes, yet they offer a crucial advantage: the ability to examine living tissue. Specimens under an electron microscope must be held in a vacuum while destructive streams of electrons pour through the sample. These conditions destroy living tissue and even knock out semiconductor chips.

That's why Intel Corp. is so eager to get its hands on the "soft" X-ray microscope being developed by C. G. Wang, president of both startup Nanodynamics Inc. and Profile Diagnostic Sciences Inc. in New York City. It will enable chipmakers to inspect chips after every processing step -- without sacrificing any to an electron microscope. Wang expects to deliver his first microscope early next year for about $100,000, or 20% less than the cheapest electron microscope. The profits from those sales will be plowed into finishing a similar tool for bioscience, which Wang expects will take three more years and cost at least $3 million.

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