Advances in microscopy technology are expanding beyond the life sciences, into applications that were once thought impossible.
A new mini microscope that uses fluorescence imaging is allowing researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., to look deeper into the central nervous system. This could lead to novel pain treatments for spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. With this and other such work, microscopy is vital technology in the life sciences. But now, microscope advances are being applied in industry, R&D, the consumer market and applications that were not possible before, including digitalization and sensing interfaces.
And growth is expected to continue. A recent report by market research firm ReportBuyer sees the global microscopy market expanding at a CAGR of 8.9 percent between 2015 and 2020, pushing it to just over $6.83 billion. The market has seen a considerable increase in R&D funding from the public and private sectors, according to the report, and there has been a rapid shift from conventional tools to integrated digital image analysis systems, in turn boosting demand for innovative microscopy devices.
Light drives the migration of charge carriers at the juncture between semiconductors with mismatched crystal lattices. These heterostructures hold promise for advancing optoelectronics and exploring new physics. The schematic’s background is a scanning transmission electron microscope image showing the bilayer in atomic-scale resolution. Courtesy of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
Photonics Spectra spoke with several industry experts for their take on the state of the microscopy market, as well as trends in research and other advancements in this field.
Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D., Chancellor’s Professor in the UCLA Electrical Engineering & Bioengineering departments, HHMI professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) and founder of Holomic/Cellmic LLC.
David K. Welsh, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego who studies circadian rhythms in single cells using bioluminescence imaging.
Nestor J. Zaluzec, senior materials scientist in the Electron Microscopy Center and Center for Nanoscale Materials, NanoScience and Technology Division at Argonne National Laboratory.
Nanoscale copper plasmonic waveguides on a silicon chip in a scanning near-field optical microscope (left) and their image obtained using electron microscopy (right). Courtesy of Xufan Li and Chris Rouleau/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy.
Photonics Spectra: What are some prevalent trends you are seeing in the field of microscopy?
Welsh: Growth areas are superresolution microscopy, automated EM [electron microscopy] for 3D reconstruction, CLARITY method to prepare 3D samples for imaging, in vivo microscopy of the brain in freely moving mice, and voltage-sensitive fluorescent proteins.
Ozcan: Computational approaches are creating various exciting opportunities to improve microscopy, while at the same time making the designs and instrumentation much more cost-effective, compact and mobile. These open up new opportunities to translate microscopy tools into new areas/applications that were not feasible before.
Zaluzec: There are a lot of trends going on. One of the important things is what we call correlative microscopy, and that is looking at materials, looking at everything in context using what I would call multimodal and multi-dimensional imaging and characterization — any one image, any one spectra is no longer sufficient to give us all the information we need to fully understand a microstructure, whatever it is, whether it’s a cell or a semiconductor, whether it’s an atomic resolution image or a low [megapixel] image. Today’s technological problems that are impacting society need more than one answer. Cryomicroscopy is being used routinely now to do exciting work in the structure of biological systems.
The ability to study materials in near-native environments under conditions that are approaching real world or can be extrapolated in the real world, [is] becoming more and more important, and we’re doing those sort of things. The biggest problem I see in many research organizations these days is that they’re operating with blinders, [saying] “We’ve always done things this way. We only use electron systems,” or “We only use light.” Well, nowadays, we’re getting people who at least appreciate the fact that [one type of] microscopy isn’t the solution to every problem; we have to use multiple sources. That’s where, at least from my perspective, things are going, and it’s certainly the direction I’m leaning toward.
PS: Some market reports anticipate an increased demand for microscopy devices and systems as the electronic and renewable energy industries grow. Do you find this to be true, and what do you anticipate for the future of microscopy?
Ozcan: I see an enormous need for microscopy tools in industry, research market, as well as consumer space. I believe our homes, offices, buildings, public spaces, airports, etc. will all benefit from various emerging microscopy-based techniques to get smarter for monitoring chronic patients, elderly populations, or protecting human health using ubiquitous imaging and related sensing interfaces that will work at the background, without many people noticing.
PS: Microscopy is a key system in the life sciences. For what applications in particular can microscopy provide the most benefit now, and in what direction should this expand in the future?
Zaluzec: It comes down to what the relationship is to the properties of the material and structure. You can’t understand one without the other.
Nowadays everyone is saying, “Well, we can calculate everything.” But you can only calculate what you know is right. So you use observations to validate the calculations, then use the calculations to make a prediction, and then you go back to your microstructural analysis to say, “My prediction is this, the microstructure is this, and the properties are this.” You’ve got properties, you’ve got observations, you’ve got predictions, and then you’ve got methodology making something. All of those are interrelated. We have to … try to figure out where we’re going, and [determine] what we’re trying to do. We want to make a better battery, we want to make a better semiconductor, we want to make a better photovoltaic, better catalyst.