Modular and portable microscope framework for novel biological experiments inside and outside the optics lab

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Live and Functional Imaging Technologies Part 2
Michael Weber (2), Rory Power (1), Todd Bakken (2), Joe Li (2), Kurt Weiss (2), Jan Huisken (2)
1. European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany
2. Morgridge Institute for Research, Madison, WI, USA
  • light sheet microscopy
  • imaging
  • shared technology
  • custom microscopes
  • collaborations
  • Flamingo
  • open science
Abstract text

Whenever a new microscopy technology gets presented, researchers want to evaluate and use it for their own imaging ideas. To do that, they are left with only a few options: They can collaborate with the inventor, try to build their own copy or wait until it becomes available commercially or in a nearby core facility. All of these solutions have their drawbacks, and it may take a long time until the ideal solution is found – time that would ideally be spent in exploring new microscopy projects [1]. The goal of our Flamingo project is to build shareable, modular and mobile light sheet microscopes to unlock exciting new imaging experiments in scientific research laboratories. Each Flamingo microscope is tailored for the specific specimen and application to provide the best possible instrument for the collaborator, resulting in unique image data. Potential light sheet microscopy users can test the technology for their specific research question before fully committing and building their own microscope or buying a commercial setup. By using a Flamingo, scientists get first results very quickly, which is particularly useful for high-risk experiments, newly established laboratories or grant applications, among others.


We started into the design process wanting a microscope that packs all the optical performance of our existing, stationary light sheet microscopes and in a compact and portable framework. Now, we have a robust, proven platform to build a variety of microscopes. We collaborated with over 20 biologists in more than a dozen institutions who always wanted to try light sheet microscopy but did not have access to a system that fulfills their needsThe Flamingo microscopes performed well with a variety of biological samples, including zebrafish, worms, and plants, even in long time-lapses. The results are on par with images recorded on our well-proven, but complex and stationary light sheet microscopes. The entire setup fits in two roller cases and can be moved from lab to lab, packed in the trunk of a car, and shipped over long distances.


Our Flamingo is also a great tool for microscopy and biology courses as it is more accessible than the typical “black box” commercial microscope and is thus well suited to teach the principles and concepts of light sheet microscopy. We as the developers benefit from the Flamingo by learning about exciting imaging projects, getting access to new specimens and integrating user feedback to build more useful instruments. We see large potential in expanding our concept to areas beyond light sheet microscopy, and we would be happy to get new partners on board to push these ideas forward.


[1] Power, Rory M., and Jan Huisken. 2019. “Putting Advanced Microscopy in the Hands of Biologists.” Nature Methods.