Analysis of Structure: Microscopy

  • Peter R. Bergethon


We know an object is located in state space when we can interact with it. We know that the choice of observables, the method of measuring them, and the abstractions used to connect the observables to a formal-natural system model are the essence of modern biophysical science. Furthermore, we are bound to a great degree by our own innately human system for observing, which is largely visual. Few methodologies in the biophysical sciences are more satisfying than those that employ visualization of the state space under consideration. The human brain is naturally organized to extract data from visual images. Thus microscopy and its related imaging methodologies are powerful tools for extracting and mapping information about a system. A word of caution is necessary. Although the psychology of image and iconographic power as a natural consequence of the neurological functioning of the human brain is beyond our scope here, as human researchers we must be skeptical of the conclusions derived from our iconoscopic powers. Readers, teachers, and marketing departments are universally aware of the power of a good pictorial representation to drive home a point. But abstraction is taken to its highest level in pictures because the human brain is naturally driven to fill in empty data sets. Having done so, however, the brain usually loses the distinction between observed and abstracted. This neurological determinism is, in part, the biological explanation for many of the paradoxes in biophysical studies. It certainly underlies the unfortunate Aristotelian dogma that the only “true” knowledge was to be gained through observations made by the primary human senses.


Objective Lens Amyloid Fibril Scan Probe Microscopy Tunneling Current Phase Plate 
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Further Reading

  1. Freeman W. J. (1991) The Physiology of perception. Sci. Am, 264(2):78–85. Thoughts on the nature of the power of visualization.Google Scholar
  2. Freifelder D. M. (1982) Physical Biochemistry: Applications to Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2d ed. W. H. Freeman, New York. Nice discussion of applications.Google Scholar
  3. Stevenson R. (1996) Bioapplications and instrumentation for light microscopy in the 1990s. American Laboratory, April, 28–63. A nice review of the state of the art. Newer Light Microscopic Techniques Google Scholar
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Scanning Force Microscopy

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Bergethon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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