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Olympus says ‘hello’ to new microscope suite

26 Sep 2012

Company expects 5% growth, as in vivo research demand takes off

Coincident with the European Microscopy Conference in Manchester, UK, optical and digital equipment systems developer Olympus, Hamburg, launched a new series of inverted research microscope systems at an event in the city. The IX3 range is designed for easier, “more intuitive” live cell imaging and clinical analysis.

The range comprises the fully-automated IX83 for high-end research applications, the flexible IX73, which can be configured in manual, semi-motorised or motorised modes, and straightforward IX53 with fluorescent capabilities, designed for routine examination of tissue samples.

In the R&D process for the new microscopes, the company’s Hamburg-based operation sought feedback worldwide, which it collected from 168 microscopy users (two-thirds Olympus customers, one third using other devices) to refine its designs to meet the needs of a wide range of users.

The IX3 range offers “exceptional ease-of-use and unprecedented optical flexibility with its new, customisable light path,” explains Andreas Pfuhl, Group Leader of Imaging Microscopy, at Olympus Europe. "Built to provide the highest quality, flexibility and reliability, these microscope systems should meet all types of research and examination needs."

Beating the pain points

”We researched microscope users’ pain points and found them to be around the software management of images and bleaching of images, which we have addressed with our new designs. Other improvements that people were looking for included expandability, accuracy and ease of use.”

”New components can be easily slid into the light path, which opens up many new avenues for exploration, allowing researchers to follow their imagination. The new systems also utilise the latest Olympus innovations in frame design, optics and software, providing exceptional stability, optical quality, accuracy and reliability.”

To optimize the microscopes for live cell imaging, the IX73 and IX83 are designed with a swappable deck design, which allows optical modules to be changed as needed, including magnification changers, filter turrets and a right side port, for example. The systems can therefore be customised to meet the requirements of diverse applications, even the insertion of user-designed custom modules.

The frame design of the IX3 systems provides an excellent level of mechanical and thermal stability, and includes an ultrasonic motorised stage for quiet, smooth and precise movement. Olympus UIS2 optics deliver sharp, bright images, while the proprietary Olympus fly-eye fluorescence illuminator generates even, vivid illumination across the specimen. This provides a much wider field of view than previously possible, with even illumination that fills the detectors of most cameras, including those with larger chips.

The IX3 systems are compatible with the Olympus Real-Time Controller, offering high-precision imaging with high-speed light sources and triggered cameras. The microscopes also integrate with Olympus’s cellSens imaging software to allow advanced analysis. The IX83 model features a movable touch-panel interface for ergonomic operation. For live cell imaging, the IX83 is also compatible with Olympus’s ZDC Z-Drift Compensation system, which automatically ensures that every image is perfectly focused.

Markets and marketing

Considering the market for medium and high specification microscopes, Andreas Pfuhl, Group Leader of Imaging Microscopy, commented, “The European market is fairly diverse with different technical needs across the continent.

"Each year Olympus probably sells about 100 or so of our highest specification model, mainly into schools [universities] and research labs, which we believe is about a 30% market share. That may sound small, but revenue-wise that is quite a lot of money because some of these models are priced well above €100,000 each.”

Concurring with the view of Prof. Tony Wilson, RMS president and vice chair of the EMC 2012 event symposium, Pfuhl added, “ The trend in market sectors involved with in vivo imaging is a return to fundamental research with living materials, working with living animal cells and various biological samples of interest.”

So what will this apparent growth in market interest in in vivo microscopy and imaging mean for Olympus? Gunnar Schröder, product marketing manager of the Micro Imaging Solutions Division, commented, “We are expecting at least 5% growth over the next year or so.

”The microscope is such a fundamental tool for the life sciences. It is simply a necessary piece of equipment whatever you are doing, so even if budgets are cut scientists still require the ability to make the invisible visible. Besides positive market forecasts from Frost and Sullivan there is a more simple explanation: scientists want microscopes and they will get them because governments want discoveries.”

Hello, hello

An intriguing part of the marketing campaign for the new IX3 series is an image of a sample dish complete with microbe culture, which spells out “hello”. At the launch event, natural comedian Gunnar Schröder, explained the mystery: “At Olympus we are so into microscopy that we are saying hello to you actually from inside the microscope. Auf wiedersehen!”

The Olympus Europe Group posted a turnover of € 1.31 billion in the financial year 2010-2011. Its European head office is located in Hamburg, Germany. Olympus Europe Group employs some 4,700 people either at its European headquarters or at one of the 44 subsidiary companies. Olympus’s Micro-Imaging Solutions Division offers bespoke microscopy systems configured for professional applications in medical training and diagnosis, industrial quality control, and life and materials science research.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org

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