Near-field illumination of a sample with visible light can resolve features well beyond the resolution of conventional, far-field microscopes. Near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) then has the potential of extending the resolution of techniques such as fluorescent labeling, yielding images of cell structures and molecules on the nanoscale. However, major problems remain to be solved before NSOM can be easily used for wet biological samples. The most significant of these is control of the distance between near-field aperture and the sample surface. Hence, while NSOM promises much, its application to biology is about where electron microscopy was 40 or 50 years ago.