American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science Advances, 6(7), p. eabe3902, 2021
While crucial for force spectroscopists and microbiologists, three-dimensional (3D) particle tracking suffers from either poor precision, complex calibration, or the need of expensive hardware, preventing its massive adoption. We introduce a new technique, based on a simple piece of cardboard inserted in the objective focal plane, that enables simple 3D tracking of dilute microparticles while offering subnanometer frame-to-frame precision in all directions. Its linearity alleviates calibration procedures, while the interferometric pattern enhances precision. We illustrate its utility in single-molecule force spectroscopy and single-algae motility analysis. As with any technique based on back focal plane engineering, it may be directly embedded in a commercial objective, providing a means to convert any preexisting optical setup in a 3D tracking system. Thanks to its precision, its simplicity, and its versatility, we envision that the technique has the potential to enhance the spreading of high-precision and high-throughput 3D tracking.