It was in the 17th century that Englishman Robert Hooke first used a primitive microscope to sketch magnified insects. Over three centuries later, the evolution of the microscope continues to reveal new wonders and underpin groundbreaking scientific research.
Today there is an immense proliferation of microscopy techniques, each offering new possibilities. Microscope manufacturers are consistently being challenged to increase the capabilities of their instruments, while at the same time keeping them ergonomic.
“The challenge is to find the balance between creating a positive user experience and maintaining access to the full power of the instrument,” says Dr. Jennifer Horner, global product manager for Leica Microsystems’ Life Science Division. A case in point is Leica’s recently launched flagship microscope, the Leica DMi8, which boasts a user-friendly, mix-and-match modular system. It also incorporates a new concept called the Infinity Port, giving users the freedom to integrate devices that can perform advanced illumination techniques, such as optogenetics or total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy.
It’s All About Big Data
Another key challenge for microscope manufacturers is the ever-increasing need to acquire data faster, and at resolutions that enable high quality downstream analysis. “It’s all about big data,” says Dr. Johannes Amon of ZEISS Microscopy. “With every product generation, microscopes improve on resolution, sensitivity and speed. New 3-D imaging technologies continue to stretch the limits of processing power and data storage.”
The new FLUOVIEW FV3000 confocal laser scanning microscope from Olympus boasts high-performance imaging capabilities that will enable researchers in fields such as cell biology, cancer research and stem cell research to collect imaging data quickly and easily. The microscope also boasts greatly reduced photobleaching and phototoxicity effects, which are typically a problem with confocal microscopy.
“Through the implementation of innovative, non-linear pixel clock technology, the FV3000’s resonant scanner maintains a market-leading 1x field of view at a rate of 30 frames per second, and can reach speeds of up to 438 frames per second for 32×512 pixels,” says Paul Roberts of Olympus’s Core Life Science team.
Scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) are hugely powerful tools for visualizing biological samples.
Innovation is also happening at the lower end of the microscopy scale. ZEISS recently received the Microscopy Today 2016 Innovation Award for its Stemi 305 stereo microscope with integrated wireless camera and Labscope imaging app—collectively known as the Digital Classroom.
This system is revolutionizing the way microscopy is being taught to students and trainees. The free Labscope imaging app displays live images from all connected ZEISS microscopes on HD projectors, tablets and smartphones. Students can share their microscopy exercises via the Internet, and upload their best microscopy images to social networks.
Small World Competition
Scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) are hugely powerful tools for visualizing biological samples, enabling scientists to view cells, tissues and small organisms in fantastic detail. But the high energy of the electron beams involved typically damages the sample, meaning it can only be viewed a limited number of times.
By replacing electrons with a beam of helium atoms, a team of scientists at the University of Newcastle, in the Australian state of New South Wales, now think they have come up with an alternative system. Their prototype scanning helium microscope (SHeM) is soft on samples while maintaining the ultra-high resolution of a SEM.
“Helium atoms aren’t electrically charged,” explains team leader Professor Paul Dastoor. “Helium’s full electron shell means it is inert, so it doesn’t react chemically with other surfaces. The second advantage is that helium atoms are very low energy.”
Dastoor’s team has already used the SHeM prototype to image fine details such as chitin flakes on a butterfly’s wing.
The infinitesimal scale of life means that its stunning intricacy sadly remains invisible to the naked eye. Established in 1979, Nikon’s annual Small World competition highlights nature’s microscopic magnificence by celebrating artists and scientists who take awe-inspiring photos under the microscope. There is also an associated video competition, entitled Small World In Motion.
The Small Word competition is enabled through a technique known as photomicrography, which links microscopes to digital cameras. The first prize in last year’s competition was awarded to Australian Ralph Grimm, for his stunning image of a honeybee eye covered in dandelion pollen.