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A new, custom-built microscope is capturing stunning views of the brain

Published in Tools.

‘ExA-SPIM’ microscope borrows from electronics industry to image incredible detail in an entire mouse brain

Using technology originally designed for defect detection in electronics manufacturing, the newly built “ExA-SPIM” microscope is showing scientists the mouse brain as it’s never been seen before.

ExA-SPIM, the brainchild of scientist Adam Glaser, Ph.D., is a one-of-a-kind microscope built for capturing images of the entire mouse brain at incredible resolution. The images coming off the scope allow scientists in the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics, a division of the Allen Institute, to view individual neurons and their wiring in the context of the entire mouse brain, a jellybean-sized organ that houses nearly 80 million individual neurons. The researchers use special fluorescent tags to make certain neurons glow under the microscope — and the resulting images from the new technology are stunning in their clarity and definition.

The new machine is a kind of light-sheet microscope, an emerging technology that uses 2D planes of light to illuminate tissues or cells with high definition; the 2D images are then stitched together to create a 3D view of entire mouse brains, in the case of ExA-SPIM. This new microscope also adds technology from the electronics manufacturing industry: “defect detection” cameras originally created to automatically detect minute imperfections in LED chips on conveyer belts in electronics factories. This camera technology enables both high resolution and speed in imaging.