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Theo Murphy meeting organised by Dr Richard Bowman, Dr Caroline Müllenbroich, Dr Benedict Diederich, Dr Julieta Arancio, Dr Sanli Faez and Professor Gail McConnell. 

Reproducible experiments in microscopy require well-understood instruments that can be replicated independently. Open Source Hardware, the practice of sharing complete designs under an open license can make instrument development more reproducible, more accessible, and reduce duplicated effort. This meeting brought together researchers, manufacturers, and others involved in open microscopy to discuss recent developments, best practice, and goals for the future.

Meeting papers will be published in a future issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

The organisers would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr Kirti Prakash, who has since stepped down from the organising committee, for helping to set up this meeting. 

Attending this event

The meeting has taken place. 

Follow-up online event

There will be a follow-up online meeting on 30 May 2023 at 2.30pm BST that aims to keep the conversation going after the main 'Open, reproducible hardware for microscopy' meeting. Registration for this follow-up meeting is open.

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team





Session 1: Open hardware reaches further


Sharing hardware openly both enables more people and labs to access it, but through encouraging replication it makes science more reproducible. In this session, we will hear from speakers who work with or develop open projects, that have achieved a much wider reach because of that openness. The discussion will touch on the benefits of openness applied to experimental hardware, particularly as applied to reducing the inequalities entrenched in modern scientific practice. We will discuss issues around how to make projects open, barriers we often face to doing so, and tools that can help.

Welcome by the lead organiser
Panel 1


Dr Jenny Molloy - Collaborations on open hardware for biotechnology in the global South

Biotechnology contributes enormously to sustainable development and yet many researchers are unable to participate in biotechnology research due to lack of reagents, equipment and infrastructure. In this talk Dr Molloy will describe the work her research group, the Open Bioeconomy Lab, has undertaken in distributed manufacturing of hardware and enzymes, how open sharing has enabled their resources to reach over 40 countries, some of the barriers they have encountered and potential solutions to ensure that future open hardware projects achieve global reach.

Professor Dan Fletcher - Mobile phone microscopy

Optical microscopy remains a central tool for basic research and a key technology for disease diagnosis. While new microscopy techniques continue to expand the information that can be collected from microscopic samples, the availability of even basic microscopy equipment remains limited outside of well-funded research and clinical centres. Lack of access to microscopes and skilled users is not only a barrier to research but also to essential healthcare, such as the diagnosis of infectious diseases. Mobile phones, with their ever advancing camera and computational capabilities, offer opportunities for creating powerful, portable, and affordable microscopy systems that combine imaging with on-board image processing. The author will briefly describe ongoing work that combines mobile phones with both hardware and software engineering to enable multifunctional mobile microscopes.


Panel discussion – Q&A
Introduction to the unconference format
Unconference session 1 following on from the panel discussion
Plenary feedback and discussion


Session 2: Faster, more reproducible instrument development


Many cutting-edge techniques are now being shared under open licenses. This enables us to build on each other's work without the need for licensing deals, which is good for reproducibility and also for the pace of innovation. This session will let us hear from speakers developing novel technologies and sharing them openly.

Panel 2


Professor Paul French - openScopes: an open, modular platform for microscopy and high content analysis

Professor French and his collaborators are developing open multidimensional fluorescence imaging instrumentation, including high content analysis (HCA), super-resolved microscopy, quantitative phase imaging and optical projection tomography. For fluorescence microscopy, they are developing a modular open-source microscopy platform based on openFrame, a low-cost, modular, microscope stand that can be used for low-cost and sustainable instruments in lower resource settings or for rapidly prototyping of advanced microscopy concepts. For open HCA and slide scanning, the scientists have developed novel optical autofocus modules including a long-range (~200 micron) implementation utilising machine learning. This can be combined with easySTORM for cost-effective single molecule localisation microscopy (SMLM) including automated multiwell plate SMLM for super-resolved HCA. They have also developed a polarization differential phase contrast microscopy (pDPC) module providing single-shot quantitative phase imaging that we are applying to label-free single cell segmentation and tracking for long time-base assays.

Dr Johannes Hohlbein - Open microscopy in the life sciences: sharing is caring 

Together with other colleagues enthusiastic about open science, Dr Hohlbein recently published a comment on the past, presence and future potential of open microscopy. Here, the author will iterate on some of the key points with a focus on single-molecule localisation microscopy (SMLM). SMLM allows monitoring molecular interactions in live cells and other complex samples. A few years ago, the scientists developed the miCube microscopy framework to increase the general accessibility and affordability of SMLM. They were intrigued to see how quickly other groups came up with new ideas and improvements in addition to our own developments including new algorithms for fast data analysis, addition of adaptive optics for localising proteins in turbid media and a scheme for spectrally resolved SMLM. These few examples demonstrate the huge potential of open microscopy in enabling interdisciplinary science and lowering the threshold for researchers to find the best solutions for their scientific imaging challenges.

Dr Ulrike Boehm - Open hardware dissemination challenges and how to go about it

The open hardware movement in science is gaining more and more traction. More and more developers openly share information about their tools with the scientific community. Still, the dissemination of these tools also needs to gain more traction. This presentation will focus on the reasons behind the dissemination challenges and suggests solutions for how to go about it. The solutions provided were direct learnings from two successfully realized open hardware projects at HHMI Janelia Research Campus, namely Karel Svoboda’s Mesoscope and Eric Betzig’s Lattice Lightsheet Microscope.


Panel discussion - Q&A
Poster pitches
Unconference session 2
Plenary feedback and discussion
Poster/tabletop presentations


Session 3: Interoperability and reproducibility for experiments


Any design can be shared, but when interoperability, openness, and reproducibility are included in a design from the start, it often has great results. We will have a discussion led by panellists who are experienced in working openly, and in designing interfaces between different systems. The utopia of a lab where different experiments can be designed and implemented by connecting standard components in a seamless and rapid way is still some way off, but we will discuss how we can achieve this using open tools.

Panel 3


Dr Gemma Cairns - The Development of M4All: MultiModal Modular Microscopy for All 

M4All is a fully open-source and 3D-printable optics system which can be used to build low-cost microscopes combining different imaging modalities. M4All was primarily developed to address imaging challenges when investigating macrophage-pathogen interactions. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of community acquired pneumonia. Mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS) have been shown as critical microbicidal factors employed by alveolar macrophages in the clearance of internalised bacteria. Understanding and quantifying interactions with mROS could provide a future target for pharmacologically enhancing host responses to S. pneumoniae as an alternative to conventional antimicrobials, to address the increasing issue of antibiotic resistance. This is especially important in some developing countries in Africa and Asia where prevalence of invasive pneumococcal diseases is much higher.

The short half-life of mROS (from 10-9 s to a few seconds) and the time frame of the overall response of alveolar macrophages to S. pneumoniae (16+ hours) poses challenges with detecting short lived interactions over long time frames. Advanced microscopy hardware for live cell microscopy can be expensive, leading to issues with accessibility. Furthermore, imaging over long periods of time introduces challenges with photobleaching and phototoxicity. Low-cost microscopes have the potential to widen accessibility to these techniques. With a focus on stability for timelapse imaging studies within incubators, M4All was developed as modular CAD files which are printed monolithically to build up the desired optomechanical system. M4All is also compatible with the OpenFlexure microscope stage. We have developed three microscopes using M4All in combination with the OpenFlexure microscope: a dual channel fluorescence microscope, a single channel fluorescence and computational phase contrast microscope, and a single channel brightfield incubator microscope. Here I present initial imaging results of macrophages and discuss how M4All could enable wider accessibility to advanced technologies by combining low-cost 3D-printable microscopes with computational microscopy techniques. 

Dr Fernan Federici - How open source hardware projects have enabled our capabilities for education, research, and outreach.

The need to address inequalities in education, scientific research, and technological development has brought open science and open source technology to the forefront. The use of open protocols, public domain reagents, and open hardware is leading to more inclusive, efficient, and multidisciplinary research models. Collaborative networks such as ReClone, JOGL, iGEM, and GOSH, which openly share these resources online, are also enabling the emergence of more decentralized models for biotechnology. In case of Dr Federici and his group of scientists, engaging with these communities has expanded their research opportunities and facilitated the development of new teaching resources. For instance, they were able to use well-documented open hardware projects, such as OpenFlexure, OpenLabTools, and FlyPi, to create microscope prototypes for various applications, ranging from yeast monitoring during fermentation processes to time-lapse fluorescence experiments with optogenetic control. During the COVID-19 lockdown, they assembled portable minilabs for teaching hands-on molecular biology practicals at home. In this presentation, Dr Federici will share their experiences working with open source hardware projects in his lab and within the context of the local reGOSH-CYTED Latin American network. Furthermore, he will discuss the limitations they are facing in expanding these open frameworks in our region and share insights into how the plan to address these challenges.

Dr David Baddeley - Python-microscopy and pyoptic - open source software for microscope control and design

Python-microscopy is a suite of software tools for the control of open-source microscopes, for simulating microscopic imaging, and for image data analysis. Dr Baddeley will introduce python-microscopy, describe some of the innovations they have made for handling high data-rate streams and extended imaging durations, and discuss how to interface with custom hardware. He will also describe the use of pyoptic2 – a python-based optical-CAD package – in conjunction with python-microscopy and 3D printing for the simulation and rapid-prototyping of custom optical systems. 

Dr Rifka Vlijm - Going Live! Technological developments for live cell (STED) super-resolution imaging

With the development of super-resolution microscopy, and great progress in labelling techniques, direct visualization of cellular structures in living cells now is possible at resolutions of 30-40nm. Commercial Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) microscopes now ensure access to this technique to researchers not specialised in optics. One important limitation which hinders a broad application to cell biological questions is the low throughput due to the manual steps required for optimal results still. Capturing ‘rare’ events, such as for example a specific cell division stage, with only manual structure selection and image parameter selection becomes near impossible. To overcome these limitations, Dr Vlijm and her group have managed to fully automate our data acquisition, and thereby improved the throughput by two orders of magnitude. They have shown the value of these improvements by detecting cells in a specific cell division stage without the typical required chemical or genetic modifications necessary to increase the occurrence. In combination with full incubator conditions on the microscope the scientists have furthermore developed a protocol for live cell STED which still enables normal cell proliferation.


Panel Discussion
Unconference session 3
Unconference recap


Session 4: Making open, reproducible hardware a reality


Open hardware is already possible in microscopy, and is increasingly being seen as good practice. If we're to make open hardware more widespread, we need to understand how to recognise this practice in ways that are picked up by academic metrics, and how to produce instruments commercially without exclusive licenses. Our panellists represent a variety of different stakeholders from the scientific ecosystem, including suppliers, funders, publishers, and a legal expert. The discussion will start focused on questions around how we can help open hardware become more widely practised, including how it's published, purchased, and funded.

Panel 4


Dr Rita Strack - An editor’s perspective on open microscopy

Innovations in both hardware and software have propelled the advancement of microscopy in the life sciences. From an editorial perspective, they have seen an important movement in open science that has made a huge impact in terms of technology dissemination, uptake, and development. Dr Strack will discuss trends they at Nature Methods have seen in open microscopy and how these fit into a larger landscape of both technology development and improving reporting and reproducibility in microscopy across biology.

Dr Brian Mehl - Thorlabs Imaging Research Group: How to accelerate advanced imaging technologies to the wider research community

At Thorlabs, researchers transform the world by identifying, enabling, and accelerating key photonics technologies. The imaging research group implements this mission statement by driving new imaging techniques, components, and custom solutions to the research community. Their goal is to shorten the time from when a technology is initially published to when the wider research community has access to these advancements, avoiding the traditionally slow product lifecycle development. Utilizing the symbiotic relationship between the teams engineering prowess and insightful researchers these collaborations have been productive in lowering the bar for engagement in advanced imaging techniques. 

Andrew Katz - 2021 European Commission study on Open Source Software and Hardware

There are a number of possible funding, commercial and business models which can be applied to open hardware. As part of his work on the 2021 European Commission paper on the Impact of Open Source Software and Hardware, Andrew Katz interviewed leading open hardware businesses worldwide. He will present the research findings, placing them in legal context with discussion of legal structure, governance, licensing and liability, and apply those findings to the panel discussion covering the use, production and dissemination of open hardware in an academic and research environment. 


Panel Discussion
Unconference session 4
Plenary discussion
Plenary wrap-up

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