Project presentations on the website

Every project supported by Gebert Rüf Stiftung is made accessible with a web presentation that informs about the core data of the project. With this public presentation, the foundation publishes the funding results achieved and contributes to the communication of science to society.


New Approach To Highly Sensitive Microscopy


Für den Inhalt der Angaben zeichnet die Projektleitung verantwortlich.


Dieses von der Gebert Rüf Stiftung geförderte Projekt wird von folgenden weiteren Projektpartnern mitgetragen: Optics & Photonics Technology laboratory, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Project data

  • Project no: GRS-019/16 
  • Amount of funding: CHF 309'000 
  • Approved: 02.11.2016 
  • Duration: 03.2017 - 04.2019 
  • Area of activity:  Pilotprojekte, 1998 - 2018

Project management

Project description

The capacity to measure low abundance molecules is a common target in several research areas. With this goal in mind, we develop, in this project, a novel multipurpose microscopy tool capable of greatly improving the sensitivity of many routine and well-established analytical techniques. Not only the envisioned product will find interest in the research community, it also has the potential to shake up the sectors of life sciences and medical analyses. Such improved performances are achieved through the use of specific, precisely structured, microscopy slides. These engineered substrates can be used directly with the current, commercially available systems. For ultimate performances, however, the use of a dedicated illumination system is required. This system will also be developed in the course of this project.

What is special about the project?

When trying to improve the sensitivity of a detection method, most of the efforts are usually engaged in the improvement of the analytical instruments themselves (e.g. more powerful light source, higher sensitivity cameras, better microscope objectives, etc.). On the contrary, very little energy is typically placed in the development of the substrates onto which the sample is deposited. This is where our technology comes into action. Placing the substrates at the heart of the improvement strategy is in this sense disruptive. We believe we can gain at least one order of magnitude in sensitivity by precisely engineering the substrates used for the analyses.


During the project, we successfully assembled a test bench and demonstrated the concept of 5 families of substrates. Over 200 samples have been designed and fabricated. We have distributed our samples to several entities for testing in the frame of their applications such as fluorescence microarrays, immunofluorescence histology and fluorescence microscopy. In fluorescence microarrays for example, we have managed to demonstrate that our prototypes provide improvement of signal by up to 30 times. We received positive feedbacks on our products and use the comments to optimize the next generation of samples. Towards the end of the project, we reached the point where we decided to team up with a Swiss industrial partner to scale up our production means and reduce our production costs. We are proud that our work was rewarded with the attribution of an EPFL Innogrant upon conclusion of this project. We will dedicate the year 2019 to test the scalability of our production and aim at the incorporation of a startup company by the end of 2019 – beginning of 2020.


Descharmes, N.; Barbey, R. Patent in preparation;
Smolik, G; Descharmes, N.; Herzig, H.-P. ACS Photonics 2018, 5 (4), 1164-1170;
Vosoughi Lahijani, B; Descharmes, N; Barbey, R; et al. in preparation



Persons involved in the project

Dr. Nicolas Descharmes, project manager
Dr. Raphael Barbey, co-project manager

Last update to this project presentation  13.03.2020