An automated, network-ready digital microscope

The era of strained eyes, slumping shoulders, and labor-intensive microscope operation may be coming to an end. Nikon revealed its self-contained, eyepiece-free, fully automated, and network-ready COOLSCOPE digital microscope in June, and now microscopy may never be the same.

Innovative microscopes are nothing new for the company. Nikon has been supplying microscopes to the US market for decades according to William Karavias, marketing manager for Nikon Instruments Inc.

The new COOLSCOPE, which had been under development for more than 3 years, debuted at the Clinical Lab Managers Association (CLMA) meeting in Salt Lake City. The COOLSCOPE features a high-end, high-quality Nikon microscope complemented by a 5-megapixel digital camera—all contained in one compact tower design. Karavias says the new product is not a computer. It has no hard drive, and it does not use a Windows-based operating system. However, this new digital microscope enables users to capture, store, and send digital images with the click of a mouse while complementing other lab equipment.

A key factor of the COOLSCOPE is Nikon’s standalone design. It is a complete microscopy system that operates free of a PC or Mac. With its on-screen control panel firmware, COOLSCOPE offers simple operation—even for someone who has never worked a microscope before. Observation, image capture, and network communications are handled by built-in functions, Karavias says. Therefore, the physical demands of conventional microscopes are reduced to simple mouse clicks.

COOLSCOPE users have only to insert a specimen slide into the front of the unit; the system does the rest. It loads the slide automatically and selects appropriate settings to ensure optimum brightfield viewing. Both micro and macro images of the slide are generated for viewing simultaneously.

In addition to automated setup, the new digital microscope employs fast auto focus, aperture, and brightness control; motorized magnification changes; aperture diaphragm, light intensity, auto white balance controls, and a motorized specimen stage.

So why are digitally integrated microscopes needed now? “The technology and the market are ready, so we seized the opportunity to engineer a truly unique and innovative product. That’s our tradition at Nikon,” Karavias says. “COOLSCOPE offers similar functionality to other products costing in the $80,000 to $100,000 range. But our design is simple enough for anybody to use.” Nikon has priced the COOLSCOPE at $19,995.

Initially, Nikon targeted the COOLSCOPE to such applications as teaching, training, documentation of slides, pathology, and histology. But early customer feedback suggested the new microscope’s enhanced observation, image capture, and network communications were an ideal fit for other markets: research, medical education, and public health.

Equipped with its own IP address, the COOLSCOPE is easily integrated into a LAN/WAN network or Internet. It stores coordinates for 12 marked points; users can switch between stored and live positions with a click of the mouse for point-to-point comparisons. The system includes four magnifications: 5x, 10x, 20x, and 40x. Focus position and digital camera settings change easily. COOLSCOPE combines modern digital optics, advanced digital camera technology, and Nikon’s expertise in precision mechanics.

Basic configuration of the COOLSCOPE consists of an SXGA or higher-quality monitor, a USB-type mouse (monitor and mouse are not included), and one CompactFlash (32 MB) card supplied with the unit. But users can configure the system with optional equipment to meet a wide variety of applications.

The COOLSCOPE can also be attached to a high-resolution projector, which makes it ideal for the classroom or training environment. The specimen can also be viewed on networked PCs in different locations. Operation of the COOLSCOPE can be accessed remotely through an Internet browser. That enables the easy exchange of information between two separate locations.

Within a classroom or training setting, the COOLSCOPE can be integrated with a projector and deliver images displayed on an external screen. The system can store important points in its memory for use later in presentations. COOLSCOPE can also network with laptops or notebooks during lectures or practice lab sessions. Also, specimen slides can be networked to personal computers at remote locations or different sites within one location, such as multiple departments in a hospital.

The COOLSCOPE’s LED illumination—ever cool and bright—offers an extended service life of 20,000 hours or more. COOLSCOPE features high 5-megapixel resolution, well-suited to broadband applications. With its special networking capability, the COOLSCOPE could emerge as a major innovation in telemedicine, research, and education.

Its advanced intuitive software provides users with micro and macro views of a specimen slide. A built-in menu offers operational choices via a mouse (or a USB keyboard if preferred). The entire image of a specimen and enlargement area are displayed on a single screen together.

By automating so many functions that traditional microscopes do manually, the COOLSCOPE reduces user training dramatically. The result is increased efficiency and productivity. The new system may well drive advancements for anyone who has a need for teaching, training, documentation of slides, pathology and histology, remote operation, and clinical lab use.

Consider the impact of a digitally integrated microscope in an era of SARS, Monkeypox, or other fast-surfacing infectious diseases. Scientists across the globe can network into COOLSCOPE’s live images and more effectively plan their response to an outbreak. When precise analysis and time are critical concerns, COOLSCOPE offers access to live and stored images, both immediate and complete.

After loading the specimen, COOLSCOPE automatically generates an overview image with its macro optics. From the macro image, a user can navigate with mouse and cursor to any position on a standard specimen slide. Navigation can be continuous or frame by frame.

In addition to providing a full, advanced-technology microscopic system in a single unit, the COOLSCOPE’s listed price is a 35% to 50% savings from what a comparable system composed of individually configured components would cost according to Karavias.

He says that since its June debut, COOLSCOPE has generated significant coverage and buzz within the industry.

Nicholas Borgert is a contributing writer for Clinical Lab Products.