What is automated microscopy?
Today, instrument automation is transforming materials science, freeing up scientists to spend more time on their analysis and less time operating their equipment. By automating everything from instrument alignments to image tuning to providing experiment workflows, researchers can gather more data in less time, avoid repetitive tasks and maximize instrument uptime.
Automated microscopy drives research excellence
One of the biggest benefits of automated imaging is an increase in productivity. With the ability to automatically operate their instruments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, researchers can analyze more samples, faster. This leads to larger volumes of data and results in experimental datasets with higher statistical precision. It also helps labs optimize their resources and obtain the most usage from their instruments.
Another benefit of automated microscopy is broader accessibility. Automation can simplify complicated, multiple-step experiments, helping new users come up to speed more quickly. Even with the automation, new operators can follow each step of an experimental procedure so important educational and training opportunities still exist. Automation expands scientific research to a broader number of users while exposing researchers to advanced tasks they may not know how to complete without automation. When training multiple users, automation and the use of workflows ensures all operators are trained to perform an experiment in the same way. This leads to a more consistent experimental approach and, in turn, delivers replicable results.
A third major benefit of automated imaging is increased data confidence. Achieving experimental consistency can be a huge challenge, especially with complex experimental workflows, or when multiple researchers use the same instrument. By implementing automation within microscopy workflows, experiments are less likely to introduce human errors—and, ultimately, researchers can have a higher degree of confidence in the final results.
A highly flexible approach to automated microscopy
It is generally accepted that automated imaging can produce more accurate data and more consistent results that produces better scientific research. Instrument automation is becoming an increasingly important part of today’s research as scientists want to produce high-quality results with the precious instrument time that’s made available to them.
While many research labs are embracing the benefits of automation, there are also perceived drawbacks. Some educators worry that automation is a “black box” that potentially compromises understanding and prevents novice users from developing good instrument handling skills. They’re also concerned that more automation may lead to less user freedom over selecting instrument parameters.
While these concerns are understandable, microscopy automation doesn’t need to be a mystery. With the right automation tools, today’s materials science labs can maintain full control over their experiments and provide good training and education, while driving high-quality scientific results.
Here are three things you may not know about how we approach automated microscopy:
- Researchers can see each of the steps behind our automated imaging workflows. We think automation should have a specific purpose. It’s not about pushing a button and seeing the results magically appear, but about improving the quality of research. We enable our customers to maintain full understanding of what’s happening during an automated workflow by letting them follow every step on their instrument’s screen. It enables researchers to easily educate new users about all the steps of a complex experimental procedure.
- Researchers can customize automation to meet their specific needs. Automation doesn’t have to mean a standard, pre-defined way of doing things. With our materials science microscopy instruments, researchers have the flexibility to customize automated workflows. In many cases, they can create their own automated “recipes” and modify them as they see fit. They can also change settings and functions to accommodate unique experimental requirements.
- Researchers can turn automation off when they don’t want to use it. While our microscopes are designed to automate and optimize tasks using the best parameters, users have the option of turning automation off and operating the instrument manually.
Watch our automation webinar series
By taking a flexible approach to automated imaging, our goal is to give our customers complete control over their research processes while obtaining increased productivity, broader microscope accessibility, and improved data confidence.
To help customers understand our approach to automation, we recently developed a six-part webinar series, “Materials Characterization Excellence Through Automation,” which demonstrates the power of automated analytical instruments to improve research results.
From achieving better microscope performance, to using scripting with a desktop scanning electron microscope, to unattended focused ion beam serial sectioning tomography, this series shows participants how automation tools can streamline research tasks while still providing the ability to control microscopy workflows.
You can watch our on-demand automation webinar series here.
Richard White is a director of market development for materials science at Thermo Fisher Scientific.