SCIEN Talk: Mapping molecular orientation using polarized light microscopy

Mapping molecular orientation using polarized light microscopy
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 4:30pm
Packard 101
Prof. Rudolf Oldenbourg; Talon Chandler (Marine Biological Laboratory)
Abstract / Description: 

Polarization is a basic property of light, but the human eye is not sensitive to it. Therefore, we don't have an intuitive understanding of polarization and of optical phenomena that are based on it. They either elude us, like the polarization of the blue sky or the rainbow, or they puzzle us, like the effect of Polaroid sunglasses. Meanwhile, polarized light plays an important role in nature and can be used to manipulate and analyze molecular order in materials, including living cells, tissues, and whole organisms, by observation with the polarized light microscope.

In this seminar, Rudolf Oldenbourg will first illustrate the nature of polarized light and its interaction with aligned materials using hands-on demonstrations. He will then introduce a modern version of the polarized light microscope, the LC-PolScope, created at the MBL. Enhanced by liquid crystal devices, electronic imaging, and digital image processing techniques, the LC-PolScope reveals and measures the orientation of molecules in every resolved specimen point at once. In recent years, his lab expanded the LC-PolScope technique to include the measurement of polarized fluorescence of GFP and other fluorescent molecules, and applied it to record the remarkable choreography of septin proteins during cell division, displayed in yeast to mammalian cells.

Talon Chandler will then discuss extending polarized light techniques to multi-view microscopes, including light sheet and light field microscopes. In contrast to traditional, single-view microscopy, the recording of specimen images along two or more viewing directions allows us to unambiguously measure the three dimensional orientation of molecules and their aggregates. Chandler will discuss ongoing work on optimizing the design and reconstruction algorithms for multi-view polarized light microscopy.

The SCIEN Colloquia are open to the public. The talks are also videotaped and posted the following week on

There will a reception following the presentation.


Rudolf Oldenbourg is a Senior Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he develops light microscopy techniques for studying living cells. He received his undergrad degree in physics at the Technical University Munich, and his PhD in physics in 1981 from the University of Konstanz, Germany. In 1989, Oldenbourg joined Shinya Inoué at the MBL, starting a fruitful collaboration leading to important technical advances in polarized light microscopy. He continues in the MBL tradition of cutting edge research through interdisciplinary collaborations, combining technical, physical, and biological insights to search for answers to life's persistent question: What is life.

More Information:

Talon Chandler received his B.A.Sc. degree in engineering physics from the University of British Columbia in 2015. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in medical physics at the University of Chicago, and he is researching new techniques for measuring molecular orientation at the Marine Biological Laboratory.