To get an even better view of a neuron, the tool of choice is an electron microscope
. While this tool can provide breathtaking close-ups that can't be achieved with optical microscopes and fluorescent staining, this type of imaging has its limitations. Portraits of the Mind
explains that it "requires placing the specimen in a high-vacuum, high-radiation environment, thus completely ruling out studies in live brains."
This 2009 image reveals the main cell body, or soma
, or a spiny neuron, with its dendrites radiating away. To produce the image, a scanning electron microscope sent a beam of electrons across the surface of a sample; a detector kept track of where the electrons bounced off the surface to reveal the outlines of the cell.