Given the advanced state of modern technology, you would think that scientists would be able to view the physiological functions of living insects with computer imaging techniques. After all, can’t doctors monitor internal human physiological processes with imaging technology? As it happens, monitoring the internal bodily processes of any organism is a technological challenge. When it comes to monitoring the internal bodily processes within insects, researchers rely on Scanning electron microscopes (SEM). Scanning electron microscopes are a godsend for insect researchers, as the technology allows for highly detailed internal images of insects. However, SEM technology has its limits, as it cannot be used on living organisms. This is due to the powerful vacuum environment that the insect specimen is required to be in before it can be imaged. This is why only dead and dehydrated bugs can be used for SEM imaging. However, researchers have recently developed a method that allows SEM to create internal images of insects that are still living, and this new method will be a game changer in the insect research community.
SEM technology works by scanning a focused beam of electrons across the body of an insect, or other organism. The imaging, however, must be done in a vacuum in order to prevent the electrons from scattering. Since insects are largely composed of water, the vacuum environment would not work, as it quickly evaporates any water present. This is why insect specimens must be dehydrated first before being placed within the vacuum. Luckily, researchers have developed a substance that protects living insects from the deadly aspects of the vacuum. This substance is as thin as a single strand of hair, and it is painted onto an insect’s body before it is placed within the vacuum. This substance is hard on the outside but soft on the inside, and it covers the entirety of a specimen’s body. If the moving insect breaks the hard surface, then the liquid immediately repairs the puncture. This substance is being compared to a spacesuit, and the researchers have dubbed it the “nanosuit.”
Do you think that this same technology can be used to image living humans?