Chinese astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-15 crew have accomplished a groundbreaking feat, capturing three-dimensional structural images of their skin cells with China’s self-developed two-photon microscope while in orbit. The announcement was made by the microscope’s developer on Monday, marking the success of in-orbit verification experiments of the two-photon microscope and providing a promising tool for future health monitoring of astronauts in space.
The portable two-photon microscope was designed specifically for astronauts on China’s space station by a joint research team of scientists from various Chinese universities, institutions, and enterprises. It is based on nonlinear optical imaging technology, featuring high-resolution, large imaging depth, and three-dimensional tomographic ability. The microscope’s miniature design, with a probe weighing only 2.2 grams, was made possible through major core technology breakthroughs in two-photon microscopic miniaturization by Cheng Heping, director of the National Biomedical Imaging Center at Peking University and head of the joint research team.
The images captured by the microscope reveal clear three-dimensional structures of the skin layers, including the stratum corneum, the stratum granulosum, the stratum spinosum, the stratum basale, and the superficial dermis. With a resolution reaching submicron levels, the microscope’s noninvasive microscopic imaging also plays an important role in examining the metabolic stress response of mitochondria inside the astronauts’ cells, thus monitoring their health conditions in orbit.
The success of the in-orbit operation of the two-photon microscope offers new methods for in-orbit health monitoring of astronauts at the cellular and molecular levels, reflecting China’s high level of high-end precision optical instrument manufacturing. The microscope provides vital technical means for the country to carry out in-orbit brain science research in the future.