Confocal microscopy is a technique that uses lasers and fluorescence to create a three-dimensional image of a sample. A focused laser beam is used to excite the molecules at one point of the sample. The molecules, called fluorophores, release photons as they return to their unexcited state, causing the fluorescence. By scanning across the sample, an image of it can be created. Confocal microscopes are used in the semiconductor industry, as well as in life and material science labs. Confocal microscopy is especially useful in studying live cells.
There are three types of confocal microscopes: laser scanning microscopes, which use a sharply focused laser that scans over the sample; spinning disk confocal microscopes, which use a disk with pinholes cut into it that are arranged in the shape of a spiral; and programmable array microscopes (PAM), which work much like the spinning disk microscopes, except that the pinholes in the PAM can be opened and closed by the user. All three types of confocal microscopes result in an image, but the spinning disk and PAM systems produce a much higher frame per second image. However, they do not allow for programmable sampling density, as the laser scanning microscope can.
Considerations for purchasing a confocal microscope system
To choose the confocal microscope that is right for your needs, several features should be considered. First you will need to determine which of the three types of confocal microscopy you’ll be performing. Other considerations are whether you want to use fluorescent dye on your samples and, if so, what kinds and how many different kinds; if you want to allow for more than one type of fluorophore to be exited at the same time; and the imaging speed provided.
Recent updates in the market
One of the most exciting uses of confocal microscopy is in vivo study of tissues. Recently, confocal microscopy has been used to visualize platelets during the aggregation process, giving researchers a better understanding of their role in the immune response. Confocal microscopy can also be used to detect microscopic changes in the cornea, iris, and lens of the eye without having to remove the tissue to do so.
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