Atoms and Energy / Biology

Yoshinori Nishino

Observing the Unknown Nanoworld by X-ray Microscopy

Yoshinori Nishino , Professor

Research Institute for Electronic Science

High school : Chigasaki Hokuryo High School (Kanagawa)

Academic background : Graduate School of Science, Osaka University

Research areas
Research keywords
X-ray, Laser, Microscopy, Nanobioscience, Data Analysis

What is the Goal of Your Research?

We are developing microscopy techniques that use state-of-the-art X-rays to observe the unknown nanoworld. We observe a wide range of objects, from living organisms to functional materials.
Using short wavelength X-rays with high penetration power allows us to observe a range covering all lengths, from atoms to space (Figure 1). It has been difficult to use conventional microscopes to observe inside micrometer-sized objects, such as a whole cell, at the nano-level. Nano-level internal structures are very important for associating atomic and molecular structures with macro properties, and it is the key to modern science. For example, it is necessary to observe the behavior of proteins that constitute our body at the nano-level in order to understand diseases, which are macro phenomena, and thereby develop medicine. In addition, the development of electric vehicles that can travel longer distances requires improvement in nanomaterials used for the battery. Our goal is to observe the unknown nanoworld and to contribute to a wide range of scientific fields.

Figure 1  X-ray imaging methods for range of various lengths


What Kind of Equipment do You Use and What Kind of Experiments do You Conduct?

We often visit SPring-8, a synchrotron radiation facility, and SACLA, an X-ray free-electron laser facility, both of which are located in the western part of Hyogo prefecture, and conduct experiments using state-of-the-art high-quality X-rays available at these facilities. The X-ray free-electron laser is a field of research that has just started. It could be your innovative idea that marks a new chapter in the history of science. We are conducting research while collaborating with many domestic and overseas researchers going beyond specialized fields and taking full advantage of the world class, cutting edge facilities in Japan.

The X-ray microscope that we are developing has no objective lens. Because it is technically difficult to fabricate X-ray objective lenses with high magnification, a microscope having no objective lens is very effective. In our experiments, we illuminate the sample with cutting-edge X-rays and record the pattern of the scattered X-rays. Then, we analyze data using a computer instead of a lens to obtain the sample image.

In addition, we are developing devices necessary for measurement while utilizing the various advanced equipment in Hokkaido University’s open facility for fabrication and observation at the nano-level.


Figure 2  A bird’s eye view of SPring-8 and SACLA (left) and a photograph of the international collaborative research group led
by our laboratory taken at SCALA (right)


Figure 3  Image of living bacterial cell made visible with an X-ray free-electron laser

Figure 2  A bird’s eye view of SPring-8 and SACLA (left) and a photograph of the international collaborative research group led by our laboratory taken at SCALA (right)Figure 3 shows an example of measurement with an original microscope that we developed. This is an image of a living bacterial cell recorded at SACLA, the X-ray free-electron laser facility. The conventional electron microscopes and X-ray microscopes cannot be used for the observation of living cells because radiation, such as X-rays or electrons, kills them. The emitting time of the X-ray free-electron laser is around 10 femtoseconds (1 femtosecond = 1/1,000,000,000,000,000 second), and therefore, we can now observe, for the first time, a living cell at the nano-level within an ultra-short time period that does not allow for the movement of molecules in the cell. We will further pioneer the frontier of nanobioscience using this new microscope.




(1) The Japanese Society for Synchrotron Radiation Research, Incredible Nanoworld Clarified by Synchrotron Radiation - Possibility of Physical World Developed by Magical Light (housyakou ga tokiakasu kyoui no nanosekai - mahou no hikari ga hiraku busshitsusekai no kanousei), Blue Backs, Kodansha (2013).

(2) Japan Science and Technology Agency, The SACLA XFEL Challendge: Observing Living Cells, Science Channel, Science News Movie (2014),