Bond-selective transient phase imaging via sensing of the infrared photothermal effect

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Phase-contrast microscopy converts the phase shift of light passing through a transparent specimen, e.g., a biological cell, into brightness variations in an image. This ability to observe structures without destructive fixation or staining has been widely utilized for applications in materials and life sciences. Despite these advantages, phase-contrast microscopy lacks the ability to reveal molecular information. To address this gap, we developed a bond-selective transient phase (BSTP) imaging technique that excites molecular vibrations by infrared light, resulting in a transient change in phase shift that can be detected by a diffraction phase microscope. By developing a time-gated pump–probe camera system, we demonstrate BSTP imaging of live cells at a 50 Hz frame rate with high spectral fidelity, sub-microsecond temporal resolution, and sub-micron spatial resolution. Our approach paves a new way for spectroscopic imaging investigation in biology and materials science.

Chenfei Hu