Centrioles are about 100 times smaller than a mammalian cell, and a thousand times smaller than a human hair. So, observing them inside of living cells required improving super resolution microscope technology that uses light to probe specimens, since the methods tend to be too slow for structural studies. Dora Mahecic, a Ph.D. student in the LEB, improved the illumination design to increase the size of images their microscope could capture by delivering light more uniformly across the field of view.
The microscope, based on a super-resolution fluorescence microscope, is not at all the typical optical microscope that one would see in an introductory biology class. It is actually a complex setup of carefully aligned mirrors and lenses that shape and deliver laser light into the specimen. The biophysicists combined this setup with advanced sample preparation that uses physical magnification of the sample and fluorophores to make proteins, the building blocks of life, re-emit light.
This new super resolution microscope technology could be used to study numerous other structures within the cell, like mitochondria, or to look at other multi-molecular machines such as viruses.