Measurement of Single Cell Refractive Index, Dry Mass, Volume, and Density Using a Transillumination Microscope

Kevin G. Phillips, Steven L. Jacques, Owen J.T. McCarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

80 Scopus citations


Phase contrast microscopy has become ubiquitous in the field of biology, particularly in qualitative investigations of cellular morphology. However, the use of quantitative phase retrieval methods and their connection to cellular refractive index and dry mass density remain under utilized. This is due in part to the restriction of phase and cellular mass determination to custom built instruments, involved mathematical analysis, and prohibitive sample perturbations. We introduce tomographic bright field imaging, an accessible optical imaging technique enabling the three dimensional measurement of cellular refractive index and dry mass density using a standard transillumination optical microscope. The validity of the technique is demonstrated on polystyrene spheres. The technique is then applied to the measurement of the refractive index, dry mass, volume, and density of red blood cells. This optical technique enables a simple and robust means to perform quantitative investigations of engineered and biological specimens in three dimensions using standard optical microscopes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118105
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 13 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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