Achievements and challenges come into focus.
Dr. Christine Connolly, UK Correspondent
Microscience 2008, held in June at ExCeL in London, was bigger and better than ever, with record numbers of exhibitors and visitors. Organized by the Royal Microscopical Society, this four-day event, Europe’s largest microscopy exhibition, brought together the world’s leading microscopy companies. With nearly 100 companies exhibiting and a “learning zone” offering activities, workshops and seminars, Microscience 2008 provided lots to see and do and presented a firsthand look at the latest developments in this rapidly evolving field.
The MFP-3D is a stand-alone atomic force microscope from Asylum Research for materials science and biological applications.
Prof. Sir David King launched the event with an insightful keynote lecture titled “The 21st Century Challenges of Sustainability and Well-Being.” While applauding the scientific achievements of the past century in prolonging human life expectancy, King cautioned that the resulting resource demands and climate change pose the biggest challenges our civilization has ever faced. He described some of the key ways in which microscopy is being used to meet those challenges — including surface imaging in the development of catalytic converters and reflection absorption infrared spectroscopy in their real-time monitoring.
Exhibiting companies presented cutting-edge products and provided hands-on demonstrations. The emphasis clearly was on improved performance both in instruments and image analysis.
Advanced products for better visualization
LOT-Oriel UK demonstrated Nuance 2 from Cambridge Research & Instrumentation Inc. A powerful tool for analysing native biological samples, Nuance 2 is used in tumour and cell biology studies by pharmaceutical companies and research hospitals. This multispectral imaging system enables the researcher to sort out and highlight the various coloured signals from a set of marker dyes while maintaining shape information.
FEI Co.’s Phenom instrument range was also on display at LOT-Oriel. Featuring a compact 1200 × 750-mm size, this imaging microscope provides magnification of up to 20,000x and colour image output of up to 4 megapixels to a USB memory stick. Described as fast and affordable, the system makes optical and electron microscopy available to teaching and routine inspection laboratories.
Improvision, a PerkinElmer company specializing in 3- and 4-D live-cell imaging, showcased its Volocity imaging software, which allows three-dimensional cell reconstruction from confocal imaging slices. A life sciences researcher can rotate the 3-D display, enabling measurement and analysis with publication-quality images. The fourth dimension is time, and the UltraVIEW VoX instrument rapidly captures Z-axis slices using spinning-disc confocal imaging and the integrated Volocity software to display the dynamic behaviour of cells.
This 3-D rendering of a pancreatic islet cell was created from confocal Z-slices using Volocity, the 4-D imaging software from Improvision.
Improved industrial inspection
Alicona Imaging GmbH offers the industrial market a new surface metrology technique for applications ranging from quality assurance in circuit boards and antennae to the manufacture of paper and medical devices, to materials science and failure analysis. Its InfiniteFocus device scans vertically with a small depth of focus and allows measurement speeds of up to 2.5 mm/s. The device captures true colour images of surface topography, while the software carries out profile analysis. Scripting helps users to set up automatic inspection routines.
Leica Microsystems (UK) Ltd. launched the M125, its new white-light confocal stereomicroscope. With 12.5:1 zoom and a standard magnification range of 8× to 100×, the instrument is designed for routine industrial applications, including presorting of mechanical components and inspection of printed circuit boards.
Enhanced image analysis
Analysing microscopy images is slow and labor-intensive, but high content analysis (HCA) is bringing vast improvements. HCA combines rapid image capture with software algorithms for automated analysis to enable high throughput in disease research. Over the past year and a half, HCA has taken off in academic, research and commercial organizations.
GE Healthcare’s modular IN Cell Analyzer 1000 is a cell imager that provides automated multiwavelength imaging and analysis in fixed and live cells. Powerful and easy to use, the instrument enhances the productivity of cell-based research by combining system flexibility with superior data and image quality. As an added benefit, the device is compatible with commercially available laboratory robotics systems. The IN Cell Investigator software uses a range of analysis routines to classify cells and to make decisions from multiparametric data, while the Developer Toolbox allows users to add their own image analysis procedures for specialized applications.
A microscope incubation system from Cambridge Analytical Instruments maintains live cells in specified conditions over many days for time-lapse photography. The system is shown here on an Olympus IX71 inverted microscope.
Atomic and photonic force
Asylum Research UK Ltd. sells top-end atomic force microscopes (AFMs), and the company’s stand-alone MFP-3D is an up-and-coming product. Its cantilever probe makes precise Z-axis measurements of nonconducting materials, including living cells and silicon devices. The instrument scans 90-μm travel in the X and Y directions and 15 μm in the Z direction, with Z-axis noise of less than 0.06 nm. The company’s market is currently 50 per cent materials science and 50 per cent bioscience, mostly in universities and government laboratories. Although there are few industrial buyers at the moment, the development of piezo high-density storage media is a growing application.
JPK Instruments AG demonstrated its innovative ForceRobot force spectroscopy product. Force spectroscopy investigates the behaviour of a molecule under a controlled force, plotting the extension of the molecule in nanometers against the force in piconewtons. While the ForceRobot builds upon AFM technology, its most exciting feature is its unattended operation capability, which allows up to 80,000 force curves to be plotted in 24 hours. The device is used in the study of nanoscale molecular interactions, measuring binding forces and adhesion strengths in biological interactions.
JPK Instruments supplies the ForceRobot, which automates molecular force/extension measurements, plotting biological interaction curves while unattended.
Also on display at JPK Instruments was the NanoTracker photonic force microscope. Optical tweezers and 3-D particle tracking allow the user to observe viruses or drug carriers interacting with live cells in real time. The tweezers trap and manipulate particles from micrometer size down to 30 nm. The instrument is compatible with inverted research microscopes from several manufacturers and with epifluorescence and confocal techniques.
Keeping cells alive
Meiji Techno UK Ltd. launched its new warm stage option, which keeps biological specimens at body temperature. Compatible with the company’s phase contrast microscope, the Linkam warm stage holds the temperature to within ±0.1 °C of its target, in a range from ambient to 60 °C. Ideal for use in cell biology labs, hospitals and in vitro fertilization clinics, the system is employed in sperm fertility testing and in veterinary applications.
Cambridge Analytical Instruments Ltd. showed a new microscope-mountable incubator that controls temperature, CO2 and humidity. The system, which can operate continuously for many days and which assists in time-lapse photography of live cells, is suitable for confocal, epifluorescence, bright- and dark-field microscopy, and differential interference contrast imaging.
As microscope magnifications and image resolutions increase, vibration isolation becomes increasingly important in reducing image blur. Ambient vibrations arise inside and outside buildings, from sources such as machinery and traffic. Vibration isolators have accelerometers to measure the vibrations as well as activators to compensate their effect. Stratton Technologies Ltd. and HWL Scientific Instruments GmbH both presented table-top active vibration isolators that overcome the drawbacks of classical passive systems.
Encouraging aspiring scientists
Another exciting event at Microscience 2008 was the launch by Olympus UK Ltd. of its Early Career Scientist Microscopy Award. The award assists UK researchers who have not yet secured substantial grant funding by providing science equipment for their use. Ranging from a basic light microscope to a highly specified FluoView 1000 confocal microscopy system, the equipment is loaned and supported by Olympus for a period of two years.