Understanding key biophysical phenomena in the ocean often requires one to simultaneously focus on microscale entities, such as motile plankton and sedimenting particles, while maintaining the macroscale context of vertical transport in a highly stratified environment. This poses a conundrum: How to measure single organisms, at microscale resolution, in the lab, while allowing them to freely move hundreds of meters in the vertical direction? We present a solution in the form of a scale-free, vertical tracking microscope based on a circular 'hydrodynamic-treadmill'. Our technology allows us to transcend physiological and ecological scales, tracking organisms from marine zooplankton to single-cells over vertical scales of meters while resolving microflows and behavioral processes. We demonstrate measurements of sinking particles, including 'marine snow' as they sediment tens of meters while capturing sub-particle-scale phenomena. We also demonstrate 'depth-patterned' virtual-reality environments for novel behavioral analyses of microscale plankton. This technique offers a new experimental paradigm in microscale ocean biophysics by combining physiological-scale imaging with free movement in an ecological-scale patterned environment.
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