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Fluor MIMI – Fluorescence Miniature Microscope

As results from early studies and the successful demonstrators MiMi-100 and MiMi-160, automated miniature (container based) microscopes, making use of commercial components, were entirely feasible for use in space.
The natural next step was investigation an extension of the usual bright field and phase contrast observation modes with (epi-) fluorescence microscopy. Since accommodation of additional optical elements within the extremely limited experiment volumes of the regular Biolab and EMCS containers was clearly impossible, the Advanced Experiment Container (AEC) that was conceived in Biolab context was appointed to host the desired fluorescence miniature microscope ‘Fluor-MiMi’.

OIP, as a subcontractor to Dutch Space [NL], developed a prototype of a very compact fluorescence microscope system for the automatic observation of live biological samples over extended periods of time. OIP was responsible for the optical microscope subsystem.

Space Biology

Space biology takes place within closed containers (vacuum tightness, thermal requirements, safety). As a consequence, microscope diagnostics must either be integrated with the experiment into in such a closed container, or in case of a manned environment, in a safe glovebox.

The container based approach has led to miniature microscope studies and projects for ESA since 1988. OIP’s participation in those studies, resulted in the definition, development and demonstration of two Miniature Microscopes (MiMi) (1997-1999).

From the successful MiMi projects the important conclusion could be drawn that fully automated miniature microscopes, making use of commercial components, were entirely feasible for space use. The natural next step was the extension of the usual bright field and phase contrast observation modes with fluorescence microscopy.

 

Miniature microscope demonstration for space biology

 

The Advanced Experiment Container (AEC) in ISS’s Biolab was conceived to host the desired fluorescence MiMi, which could benefit from rapid evolution and widespread use in the biology laboratory of green fluorescent protein (GFP).

Keywords

Solution: Instrumentation

Type: Microscope

Application field: Miniature microscope demonstration for space biology

Mission: Technology Demonstrator

Life: Prototype completed (2000-2003)

Fluorescence Miniature Microscope

The Miniature Microscope (MiMi) is a miniaturized microscope system with several observation modes (fluorescence, bright field and phase contrast) for the automatic observation of live biological samples over extended periods of time in space.

A prototype fluorescence miniature microscope (‘Fluor-MiMi’) has been developed that serves as a demonstration model of an eventual flight instrument for use on the ISS Biolab facility of ESA. The flight instrument is aimed to fit inside a so-called ‘Advanced Experiment Container’ (AEC; inner volume <168 x 118 x 140 mm³) and, as such, can be accommodated in duploon both the static (microgravity) and on the centrifuge (1xgreference) rotor of Biolab.

The Fluor-MiMi prototype instrument consists of three parts: (1) optical system, (2) sample holder on XY-scan and focus (Z) tables and (3) electronics. The optical system enables bright field or phase contrast microscopy (diffused white LED illumination, automated change of observation mode) and fluorescence microscopy.

The current implementation is based on use of GFP for study of live objects (473nm solid state laser input, >510 nm filtered detection). Off-line and/or automated change of objectives allows a 10x – 40x magnification range, and corresponding field of views. Microscope images in NTSC video format are generated by a built-in B&W CCD camera.
The sample holder allows accommodation and automated change of observed specimen and is designed such that (automated) liquid management can be added for the flight situation. For this, use can be made of the Biolab provisions or liquids can be stored and dispensed from within the AEC. For the prototype instrument the XYZ-table for the sample holder has been constructed from commercial elements, allowing a scan range of 5mm in all directions.

The electronic system, which will be housed inside the AEC in the flight model, is based on a micro-controller with embedded software and interface cards for control of, and power supply to, all motorised elements and light sources and for read-out of all sensors (temperatures, end switches, proximity). The prototype system is completed with a computer as ‘user interface’ and video equipment.

Characteristics

  • Observation modes: Bright field (BF), Phase Contrast (PC) & Fluorescence (FL)
  • Magnification: 10X & 40X
  • Mechanisms: Phase Contrast, Objective magnification and sample position (5mm range) + Fluorescence
  • Illumination: White Nichia LEDs for BF and PC mode, Nd:YVO4 Laser and filter set for FL mode
  • Detector: Black & White CCD from Watec
  • Pixel pitch: 12.5µm x 15µm
  • Number of pixels: 811 x 508 pixels
  • Resolution:  1µm at 40X
  • Sensitivity: 0.3 mlux @f/1.4
  • Dimensions:  155 x 137 x 101 mm³
  • Mass: 1000g

 

 

Mission

Technology demonstrator (Miniature microscope demonstration) for space biology onboard ISS.

Space biology takes place within closed containers (vacuum tightness, thermal requirements, safety). As a consequence, microscope diagnostics must either be integrated with the experiment into in such a closed container, or in case of a manned environment, in a safe glovebox.

Biolab is the ESA facility to perform biological experiments in space, to study the effect of microgravity and space radiation on samples as cell cultures, small invertebrates, micro-organisms, small plants. Biolab is flown on the ESA Columbus Module, part of the International Space Station (ISS).

OIP’s Participation

For space biology OIP participated in several studies and projects for the miniaturization of microscope diagnostics for ESA since the ‘90ies. This resulted in the definition, development and demonstration of Miniature Microscopes (MiMi)

OIP, as a subcontractor to Dutch Space [former Fokker Space, The Netherlands], developed a prototype of a very compact fluorescence miniature microscope for the automatic observation of live biological samples over extended periods of time, to be used on the ISS Biolab Advanced Experiment Container (AEC). OIP was responsible for the optical microscope subsystem.

The project was performed for ESA (ESA contract no. 15656/NL/ND), under subcontract to Dutch Space.

Status

The prototype model microscopes were delivered to Dutch Space (Leiden, The Netherlands) and have been subjected to a series of performance tests in which optical test objects (resolution, focus, etc.) and representative (non-living) biological specimen were used.

Unfortunately the microscopes were not selected for AEC on Biolab.

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