We intend toppling one of the most prominent paradigms in science: the diffraction resolution limit of an imaging or writing system relying on focused light. To achieve this goal we will pursue a radically new concept. We argue that effecting a reversible saturable transition with a focal intensity distribution featuring one or more local zeros should allow imaging and writing at the molecular scale. Compared to reported efforts (from our own group), the imaging and the writing shall be performed at 1000 to 1,000,000 times lower power. Unlike the established electron beam and scanning probe approaches, our technique accesses the sample's depth. Thus it will allow the non-invasive 3D-visualization of live cells and the writing of nanostructures in 3D. Imaging live cells on a macromolecular scale (<10 nm) would revolutionize our understanding of cellular function and disease. Verification of our concept will profoundly impact the field imaging and may even challenge the current multibillion efforts in nanolithography to translate optical technology into the problematical deep-UV and X-ray regime. Our endeavour does not fall into the thematic priorities of FP6. It is risky but footed on quantitative predictions. Requiring joint efforts of chemists, biologists, and physicists alike, a broadly based breaking of the diffraction barrier is a truly interdisciplinary task. Conversely, light-based nanoscopy would reflect back on these disciplines as well as on their commercial exploitation. Our success will enhance the capabilities of key industrial areas, as diverse as the biomedical industry and information technology. The project's ambition is to establish optical nanoscopy in the same way, as the scanning probe microscopes were established in the 1980's. Breaking the diffraction barrier of focusing optical systems is one of the most challenging yet realistic goals in science to date, with great potential reward.
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