There is no standard curriculum to learn practical procedures about microscopy: how to align a setup, how to identify misalignments, how to identify broken parts, where to buy components, how to check their performance, and much more. How to learn all of this?
Often, research papers contain close to zero information about these topics, and even if they do, the information is scattered in the methods sections or supplementary information. This is not a surprise since papers are mostly expected to be “research” and not engineering manuals or step-by-step protocols. This makes some papers quite impressive, but close to useless from a practical perspective.
Therefore, the most useful practical information about microscope construction and maintenance can be found in sources other than papers. Some examples:
- On labrigger and other blogs (including my blog), useful but sometimes a bit anecdotal information is distributed over many pages, making it available via search machines.
- A nice tutorial on alignment by Rainer Heintzmann can be found in the web – it’s an appendix to a book, but clearly more widely shared than the book itself.
- Some projects, like the mesoSPIM project (by my labmate Fabian Voigt), provide a lot of useful practical information via dedicated websites or Github repositories.
- Andrew York took advantage of his independence to provide less formal work-in-progress publications via Github, which allowed to focus more on practical and useful information, instead of trying to prove novelty and impact with beautiful figures.
These webpages are more flexible than PDF papers, can be easily updated and enhanced and allow for simple integration of animations or interactive elements. Since the webpage does not need to convince editors and reviewers with polished writing and impressive claims, it allows for more practical information to slip in.
Recently, I discovered another project that goes into a similar direction, initiated by the lab of Martin Booth, on the topic of adaptive optics. As the authors describe it themselves:
“The documents posted here will include tutorials, experimental protocols, and software. This will range from simple hints and tips through to extensive documentation of procedures. We intend to post material whenever it is ready, and documents will be updated with newer versions when we have them. We chose to set up the site in this way, to be free from the constraints of the traditional publishing process, which is ill-suited to the dissemination of this type of material, particularly when content could be frequently updated as our own approaches develop.” – aomicroscopy.org/about
I really enjoyed the protocols uploaded so far. For example, despite quite some experience with microscopes, I have never aligned a confocal pinhole so far, and I found it interesting to read the instructions on how to do this, even though it’s a very simple procedure. I’m really looking forward to seeing this form of resource becoming more frequently used and also appreciated not only by other researchers, but also by funding sources.
Of course, all of this does not replace the best source for practical training in microscopy: doing it yourself, spending a lot of time solving problems – and having somebody in the lab who knows everything.
Another highly recommended and practical resource which just went online, the video channel from Nemonic NeuroNex, directly from the bench with very practical instructions: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEQ-b8i_E36f-oPStsbXNAw