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Emerging Trends in Biological Microscopy

As technological forces merge automation and computation with current advancements in optics, the full potential of biological microscopy is coming into focus. Since the advent of phase contrast microscopy by Frits Zernike in 1934, the pursuit of greater illumination techniques has been a driving force behind the many revolutionary advances that have taken place in the field.

The challenge of illumination is ever-present in microscopy. For decades, scientists struggled to find optimal forms of contrast manipulation to better visualize complex details in samples, and to probe deeper into the understanding of life’s complexities. If it were not for the constant pursuit of new techniques and new technologies, the entire scientific and medical communities would still be struggling to find their way in the dark.

2D vs. 3D Imaging

Traditional microscopy typically involves looking at a slice of tissue, cells, or microorganisms sandwiched between two pieces of glass (microscope slide and cover glass). The specimen is so extremely thin — often just a few microns thick — that it seems practically 2-dimensional by our observation. We focus on the specimen, and moving it in X-Y across the stage is generally sufficient to complete our observation.  Information obtained from 2D microscopy in this manner is absolutely beneficial, is the most widely used observation method, and continues to advance scientific knowledge. Yet, cells, tissues, and cellular organisms are 3D entities, and 2D imaging has limitations when exploring the complex mechanisms behind life’s functions. 3D imaging allows scientists and experts to closely examine these processes within a cellular context.

Fluorescence microscopy has truly advanced the application of 3D microscopy for the study of biological processes.  Where 2D microscopy only considers “planar” specimens, fluorescence microscopy adds a third dimension in the form of focus. High-resolution optics and noise-limiting technologies allow the microscope to acquire very thin optical sections through even a single cell (it’s a much more difficult task with thick specimens, but a topic for another time). Stack these images together (referred to as a Z-stack) and a 3D reconstruction of the specimen can be achieved. With the ever-increasing availability of observable data, long-standing mysteries about cellular functions will continue to be solved.

The Transition to Simplified Mechanisms for Non-Expert Users

Recently, there has been a shift in the development of scientific tools so that they can be better utilized by non-expert users. Most microscopes can now be effectively used by individuals with little experience in microscopy. This is due in part to the fact that many scientists and medical professionals are often trained in specialized disciplines. As a result of the depth of specialized training, they generally receive minimal training in microscopy, don’t fully understand how microscopes work (e.g. optics and physics), and don’t know how to optimize the microscope for the best results.

With the advancement of technology, microscopes and many imaging systems (e.g. cameras and software) are now being designed for ease-of-use. The operation of a basic microscope hasn’t changed in over 100 years, but software with a logical interface and retrievable imaging parameters dramatically steepens the learning curve. Microscopes are designed for greater ergonomics, haptics, and visual references (e.g. match the setting on the condenser diaphragm to the Numerical Aperture written on the objective) to simplify operation. It is a careful balancing act between improving technology while retaining accessibility.

Continuing to Shed Light on the Smallest Discoveries

As innovation and discovery continue to advance the field of microscopy, ACCU-SCOPE is here to provide you with the tools to build a solid foundation for your work. We are consistently evaluating our product offerings and adjusting our inventory to feature the latest in microscopy technology. Contact ACCU-SCOPE for more information about cell culture microscopes, clinical microscopes, cameras and digital imaging solutions, and other products that are essential for biological studies.