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"The Imaging Suite is the Microscope"

Looking back at our publications in 2011, a favorite article was "Microscopy in 2011: The Imaging Suite is the Microscope," which appeared in American Laboratory.  It touched on some important themes, including key applications in super-resolution microscopy, recent advancements in fast focus automation, and the importance of software in instrumentation.

That last point, regarding the importance of software, is familiar to the point of obvious for users.  Software is the face of instrumentation to them.  When great hardware supports great software and vice versa, productivity results.  In contrast, hardware inadequately supported by software represents a frustrating waste of time for users.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the field of microscopy, where the classical limitations of optics are growing obsolete in the face of clever imaging and control techniques that tease resolution out of the application, and where the newly databased nature of discovery depends on coordinated, automated and networked control and communications of microscopes, staging and cameras.

We coined a phrase for this: "The Post-Rayleigh Era of Microscopy."

What this means: To the user, the face of the microscope is increasingly the computer screen.  The knobs and buttons are increasingly virtual.  The users themselves are increasingly remote.  And the images are increasingly the result of sophisticated image acquisition and processing algorithms.

As the article discusses, a corresponding lesson is that today, equipment manufacturers and their users are both participants in a larger ecosystem which includes software vendors-- and in microscopy's case that means providers of imaging suites like MetaMorph,  Micro-Manager and ScanImage.  Accordingly, forging partnerships with software developers has been a priority for us.  It's all in pursuit of productivity for our mutual customers.

Another reason the article was delightful for us was that American Laboratory, with its annual purchasing-plans surveys, was the very first publication to spotlight the advent of the personal computer as a top capital equipment line-item way back in the mid-'80s.  The cycle was propelled by instrumentation programming suites like National Instruments' LabVIEW, introduced in 1986, and which instituted a clever graphical flowchart paradigm for composing automated applications called virtual instruments.  NI's slogan was, "The Software Is The Instrument."

Indeed.  And the imaging suite is the microscope today.

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