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Thermal illumination limits in 3D Raman microscopy: A comparison of different sample illumination strategies to obtain maximum imaging speed

Hauswald, Walter; Förster, Ronny; Popp, Jürgen; Heintzmann, Rainer
in: PLoS One (2019) e0220824-1

Confocal Raman microscopy is a powerful tool for material science and biomedical research. However, the low Raman scattering cross-section limits the working speed, which reduces the applicability for large and sensitive samples. Here, we discuss the fundamental physical limits of Raman spectroscopy with respect to signal-to-noise, sample load and how to achieve maximal imaging speed. For this, we develop a simple model to describe arbitrary far field light microscopes and their thermal influence on the sample. This model is used to compare the practical applicability of point- and line-confocal microscopes as well as widefield-, light sheet- and light line illumination, for the measurement of 3D biological samples. The parallelization degree of the illumination can positively affect the imaging speed as long as it is not limited by thermal sample heating. In case of heat build-up inside the sample, the advantages of parallelization can be lost due to the required attenuation of excitation and the working speed can drop below that of a sequential method. We show that for point like illumination, the exposure time is thermally not as critical for the sample as the irradiance, while for volume like illumination, the exposure time and irradiance result in the same thermal effect. The results of our theoretical study are experimentally confirmed and suggest new concepts of Raman microscopy, thus extending its applicability. The developed model can be applied to Raman imaging as well as to other modes (e.g. two- or three- photon imaging, STED, PALM/STORM, MINFLUX) where thermal effects impose a practical limit due to the high irradiance required.

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