The characterisation of stem cells is of vital importance to regenerative medicine. Failure to separate out all stem cells from differentiated cells before therapies can result in teratomas—tumours of multiple cell types. Typically, characterisation is performed in a destructive manner with fluorescent assays. A truly non-invasive method of characterisation would be a major breakthrough in stem cell-based therapies. Raman spectroscopy has revealed that DNA and RNA levels drop when a stem cell differentiates into other cell types, which we link to a change in the relative sizes of the nucleus and cytoplasm. We also used Raman spectroscopy to investigate the biochemistry within an early embryo, or blastocyst, which differs greatly from colonies of embryonic stem cells. Certain cell types that differentiate from stem cells can be identified by directly imaging the biochemistry with CARS microscopy; examples presented are hydroxyapatite—a precursor to bone, and lipids in adipocytes. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.