Ever since their invention centuries ago, microscopes have been mostly operated by hand. But technology has improved in leaps and bounds, with high power microscopes magnifying images up to 1000 times their actual size. At these rates, it’s easy to find yourself fumbling with the controls. Thankfully, a little mechanical help can help you in the form of linear stages.
Moving Instead of Turning
The principles behind linear motion have been discovered way back in 1895. But throughout the years, they have been applied to amazing results in fields like science, medicine, transportation, and more.
With linear motors, the entire build of the rotor (the moving element) and the stator (the stationary element) are “unrolled.” Instead of producing motion by spinning (as in electric fans and power drills), it exerts a linear force that lets it travel along its length.
Compared to having a standard induction motor travelling along a path, this encounters much less friction and therefore uses less energy. It’s the basic concept that gives high-speed rail transportations their speed, but scaled down to fit our desks.
Smooth and Precise Movements
Linear motion technology makes mechanical positioning fine, smooth, and accurate. And because there are also less turning parts that roll and grind on each other, it also minimizes vibrations. This makes it helpful for doing the precise movements needed in digital imaging systems—like image scanners and modern microscopes.
For microscopes, linear stages rely on a servo drive to transmit your feedback into incremental movements that are accurate to the nanometer level. It can also offer superior autofocusing, resulting in easily-repeatable and high-resolution images.
However, getting one for your existing lab setup may not always be as easy. For microscope stages alone, there are several types of drive systems with their own set of pros and cons:
- Direct drive systems include fewer parts than traditional drive, screw, or rack and pinion actuators. This leads to more consistent motion, less noise, and greater accuracy. Given its basic design, it can easily be scaled down to fit inside small spaces or bulked up for heavier payloads, as needed.
- XY stages are a combination of two single axis stages, bolted together for a wider range of motion and better overall performance. This allows for a degree of tilt on two axes, providing additional angles of inspection.
- Meanwhile, air bearing stages rely on a system that allows the rotor to float on a thin film of air. This lets it offer the most precision for equally high levels of magnification.
But don’t think of them as competing designs. Elements of each type can be incorporated in any of the others. This allows any lab to create a tailor-made linear motor that best fits the job.
A microscope system built on linear motion technology allows for seamless calibration, perfect alignment, and continuous focus. As an added bonus, it also simplifies microscope operation— regardless of the operator’s previous technical experience.
For more specific needs, custom designs that combine different designs are also available. And when integrated with advanced software, you can further maximize a microscope’s potential and allow for more complex image analyses.