Higher optical spatial resolution

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Tools for single molecule imaging and super-resolution light microscopy


Ann Wheeler, Gail McConnell, Dave Clarke, Ian Dobbie, Mark Neil, John Girkin, Andrew Carter, Rolly Wiegand, Martin Spitaler


Members of the Super-Resolution group and others met at the Facility Managers meeting Imperial College and commented on the working draft document.


Super resolution Imaging

The Problem

Super-resolution imaging is a nascent and emerging technique which has a huge potential to impact and revolutionise Cell and Molecular biology research. However some of the issues in these techniques are illustrated by this:

1. It is a nascent technique. The only publications using these techniques currently always have a named optical physicist as a collaborator or are from an optical physics laboratory. The majority of researchers who stand to benefit from this technique have negligible knowledge of physics. There is a huge potential for mistakes to be made in the application of this technology unless it is administered by people with expertise in optical physics or there are user friendly solutions made with tools to correct and compensate the data.

2. It is an emerging technique. This means that in the next decade it is likely that further advances will be made, so how can a facility plan and cope with this? How much resolution is enough for a general research community? Several institutes have EM facilities, which indicates a strong need for high resolution imaging. Furthermore the technology is emerging most of the pieces of equipment required for it are not mass produced or require precision engineering and as a consequence are very expensive.

3. It has a potential revolutionise Cell and Molecular Biology. Which in a sense is a good problem, as it means many more people will want to get involved in light microscopy. However it will mean that people will require more support in using the machines, in generating the probes they need for their experiments etc. Researchers will be generating larger datasets using these techniques as all of them generate output in the Megabyte-Gigabyte range. Doubtlessly our industrial partners have already established this and are working on easy to use cost effective solutions for this but at present there are very few commercially available solutions.


1. Management and expertise

2. Advances in technology – machines and probes

3. Data storage

4. Cost

5. Space


1. There should be a central resource for super resolution imaging. This should be accessible by facility managers and those with an interest in super resolution imaging. The resource should include: (i) Centralised facility so bespoke rigs can be set up (STFC?), (ii) Opportunity for industrial input for developing new techniques, (iii) Workshops for information exchange and training, (iv) Website with protocols and tools for exchaning expertise, (v) Probe development

2. We should have a UK course about super-resolution imaging so everyone will be up-to speed on these new techniques

3. We should work closely together with physicists when pioneering these techniques as the involve complex optics

4. Data processing could be managed by tapping into grid computing, which is available at some but not all universities in the UK. There should be integration with the detector group at Rutherford Appleton with regard to processing and storage capabilities.

5. Potentially Eurobioimaging should look into having some central data storage agreement with Rutherford Appleton which then individual member institutions could use for virtual storage of data

Preliminary draft recommendations

• A discussion platform and workshop would be desirable

• A workshop has been proposed this would allow to compare all techniques with the same sample side by side

• The feasibility of a central research and development facility for super-resolution microscopy was discussed as being desirable but need to decide how to fund and administer.

• Due to the increasing demand in computing power, data management and storage capacity, the improvement of local IT infrastructure and collaboration with computing experts seems to be the way forward for central imaging facilities (see also break-away session ‘Software and Data’).

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