Thanks to the advent of super-resolution microscopes some 30 years ago, scientists can observe subcellular structures, proteins and living tissue with unprecedented precision.

These microscopes operate by measuring the fluorescent light that some compounds emit naturally or the light emitted by artificial fluorophores, and by exploiting various quantum properties of the fluorophore, can deliver a resolution smaller than the one imposed by the diffraction limit.

One problem is that image quality varies considerably with the particular instrument being used and its settings - such as how powerful the laser is and how the individual components are aligned - as well as with the proprieties of the sample being studied.

A team of scientists at EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology, headed by Aleksandra Radenovic in the School of Engineering, has developed an algorithm that can estimate a microscope's resolution in just a few seconds based on a single image.

This could be particularly useful for the automated microscopes that have started appearing in research labs.

The scientists used Fourier's transform as the basis for their algorithm, but they modified it so as to extract as much information as possible from a single image.

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