The Flamingo Spreads Its Wings
A pragmatic new approach to light sheet microscope technology could change the game for facilities with fewer resources
For many biologists, there’s a bittersweet irony to the cutting-edge heights of modern microscopy. “Accessing microcopy technology has always been an issue within the research area,” explains Susi Power, a member of the Flamingo development team at the Morgridge Institute for Research. Not all who dream of an expensive built-in commercial microscope can afford it – and even those who can must make peace with the knowledge that the technology may rapidly become outdated. Yet the notoriously long waiting lists of institutional facilities mean that scope-less users with time-sensitive samples are often left with no way to look at them, and it’s not always practical for delicate samples to travel to distant sites. Enter the Flamingo.
Developed by a team of medical engineering researchers, the Flamingo is a light sheet microscope that condenses massively complex technology into a 3D in vivo imaging device weighing just 40 pounds (1). Portable and compact, the microscope can be dispatched to any lab globally for up to three months – a service the team offers entirely free of charge to counter the accessibility problems so many investigators face. “The Flamingo is part of the novel ‘involv3d’ initiative, which aims to make collaborations and communication between remotely situated scientists easier,” says Power. “Sharing a microscope is our contribution to this, and we think it will be a great start.” And the cooperation works both ways: “The feedback on the microscope after the short-term rental period will be our profit, because it will tell us how we can improve our technology, so that users can gain the most from it.”
This collaborative ethos is the foundation of the Flamingo project, named for the microscope’s one-legged stand and slim profile. At the moment, there’s just one prototype, which travels internationally to raise publicity for the project. The future is looking bright, though; the researchers hope to have a small flock by the end of the year. In the meantime, the project is on tour: “We will present the Flamingo at the SDB Conference in Portland, USA, at the end of July and in Dresden, Germany, for the Light Sheet Conference in mid-August. Additionally, we’re working on final adjustments to the software and hardware so that the Flamingo is ready to fly.”
- B Mattmiller, “Flamingo: High-powered microscopy coming to a scientist near you” (2018). Available at: bit.ly/2lUEHRX. Accessed July 4, 2018.
Tayiba Sulaiman is an A-Level student who hopes to study Modern Foreign Languages and Literature. She is an avid writer and reader of both old stories and new science.