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An Electron Microscope For Your Home? 125

CuteSteveJobs writes "Could microscopy be in for a new golden age? Wired previewed the desktop-sized Hitachi TM-1000 Electron Microscope a while back. Light microscopes can magnify up to 400X (1,000X at lower quality) — just enough to see bacteria as shapes — but this one offers 20X to 10,000X, giving some amazing pictures. Unlike traditional electron microscopes, this one plugs into a domestic power socket and specimens don't need any special preparation; it's point-and-shoot, much like your typical digital camera. So easy a grade-schooler could use it, and earlier this year that's what happened: The kids at Iwanuma Elementary School in Miyagi, Japan got their own electron microscope. At $60,000, you'll have to give up on the BMW, but the hope is with economy of scale (so far 1,000 have sold) and miniaturization, the price will continue to drop. The only bad news? It runs XP."
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An Electron Microscope For Your Home?

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  • by gzipped_tar ( 1151931 ) on Sunday October 11, 2009 @09:42AM (#29710759) Journal

    ... as long as you don't have to use some locked-down, proprietary software to read the images. I hope they don't use some closed image format for the output.

    On the other hand, I'm sure some guys would like to take the effort putting $YOUR_FAVORITE_OS in it...

  • sample prep? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by brillow ( 917507 ) on Sunday October 11, 2009 @12:08PM (#29711471)
    EM is all fine and good, but you cant just stick things into it like you can a light microscope. Sample prep is very complex. Unless these kids have several rather nasty solvents to fix the sample, and a high-pressure liquid CO2 bomb to remove excess liquids, not to mention a sputter-coater, there is nothing you can do with it. Sounds like a waste of money for schools to buy this. Better to buy 200 decent light-scopes and let kids play with it individually than watch the teacher put a prepared sample into a tube and look at a computer screen.
  • by doctor_no ( 214917 ) on Sunday October 11, 2009 @12:30PM (#29711633)

    The electron microscope I used to use ran on OS/2 Warp. Acquired images had to be transferred off the computer using Zip drives. Its still in service. I have a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) machines that runs on OS9 exclusively.

    The thing is, being that some scientific equipment can easily be six-figures, the computers that are connected to those machines are dedicated to it and run one piece of software exclusively. Many scientist aren't in-depth computer people, most labs with won't allow those computers to have any other software that isn't necessary to be installed, or be used to surf the net, or be upgraded if its working. Any downtime associated with such an expensive machine can be costly, and the software that runs it is usually finicky and filled with bugs (being that the userbase is miniscule).

    The fact that its on XP isn't much of an issue, in fact, it seems a lot more progressive then other equipment out there. I know equipment that will on run on Windows 95/98/Me, and let me tell you it's a NIGHTMARE!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 11, 2009 @03:06PM (#29712507)

    The computer sitting on my desk right now has 8GB of RAM, 4x2.4GHz cores, and 1TB of disk space -- build-out was about $1,600.

    In 1995, I picked up a system with a Pentium @ 60MHz with 8MB of RAM for $2,000. Not that much can be added (I think the max RAM for this system was 16MB...maybe 32MB), but RAM was running about $200 for a 4MB stick at the time.

    Based upon the RAM alone, I am running a $410,000 computer system in 1995 terms.

    Let's look at the CPU...a P120 was about $400 at the time...strictly based upon clock speed...add another $16,000 to the value of my current system.

    Hard drive? I have 1TB of storage in this system. In 1997, I paid $400 for an 8.4GB drive. Add another $49,000 on to my current system's value.

    I have a half million dollar system on my desk right now...and I didn't have to sell my old system for $450,000 to get it.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson