Confocal microscopy was developed in the mid-1900s and hasn’t changed much in recent decades. But a welcome addition to the technology is now available.
Automated confocal microscopy offers speed and additional functionality to already highly-valued imaging technology. Confocal microscopy is an essential tool for life sciences, often the microscopy technique of choice for high-resolution images.
What Is Confocal Microscopy?
Confocal microscopy is a fluorescence-imaging technique that offers amazingly sharp optical sections through biological specimens. It works by exciting a laser over the sample and collecting emission data, point by point, to reconstruct the final image. A stepper motor attached to the fine focus enables the collection of a series of images through a three-dimensional object.
Clinical and research laboratories use confocal microscopy to study live cells. There are three types of confocal microscopes:
- Laser scanning microscopes use a sharply focused laser to illuminate the sample point-by-point
- Spinning disk microscopes use a disk with pinholes drilled into it that are arranged in the shape of a spiral, spreading laser light over numerous points simultaneously
- Programmable array microscopes use an electronically controlled spatial light modulator that produces an arbitrary pattern of moving pinhole illuminations
Deciding what type to use depends on the application. Laser scanning microscopes have a high resolution but a slow frame rate, which is problematic when observing moving samples. Spinning discs have high frame rates. Each application has its own requirements when it comes to training users, adapting the system to future needs, and repairing it when needed.
What Advantages Does Automated Confocal Microscopy Offer?
Automated confocal microscopy offers faster imaging and higher throughput than traditional methods. New automated confocal microscopy systems feature advanced capabilities that deliver exponentially faster plate imaging. For example, it takes only 5 minutes to image a 384 well plate in 3 colors (with 1 field of view), whereas a wide-field microscope can take 10 times longer. Automated confocal microscopes reduce complex imaging time from days to minutes. These microscopes are capable of high-resolution 3D samples used for the evaluation of multicellular and complex tissue systems.
Automated confocal microscopes improve assay quality, increase rate of acquisition, and allow for expanded assay portfolios. More broadly, they allow for the high-quality imaging of complex cellular structures with implications for a wide range of industries.
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