(19)
(11)EP 3 304 163 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
06.05.2020 Bulletin 2020/19

(21)Application number: 16723911.0

(22)Date of filing:  10.05.2016
(51)Int. Cl.: 
G02B 21/00  (2006.01)
G02B 21/26  (2006.01)
G01N 21/64  (2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/US2016/031572
(87)International publication number:
WO 2016/195928 (08.12.2016 Gazette  2016/49)

(54)

SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR STABILIZING A SAMPLE STAGE IN A STRUCTURED ILLUMINATION IMAGING SYSTEM

SYSTEME UND VERFAHREN ZUR STABILISIERUNG EINES PROBENTISCHES IN EINEM BILDGEBUNGSSYSTEM MIT STRUKTURIERTER BELEUCHTUNG

SYSTÈMES ET PROCÉDÉS PERMETTANT DE STABILISER UNE PLATINE D'ÉCHANTILLON DANS UN SYSTÈME D'IMAGERIE À ÉCLAIRAGE STRUCTURÉ


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 02.06.2015 US 201562169683 P

(43)Date of publication of application:
11.04.2018 Bulletin 2018/15

(73)Proprietor: Life Technologies Corporation
Carlsbad, California 92008 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • GUNDERSON, Andrew
    Carlsbad, California 92008 (US)
  • BOESCHOTEN, Paul
    Carlsbad, California 92008 (US)

(74)Representative: Boult Wade Tennant LLP 
Salisbury Square House 8 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8AP
London EC4Y 8AP (GB)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A1-2013/126999
  
  • SOINI J T ET AL: "IMAGE FORMATION AND DATA ACQUISITION IN A STAGE SCANNING API CONFOCAL FLUORESCENCE MICROSCOPE", APPLIED OPTICS, OPTICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA, WASHINGTON, DC; US, vol. 36, no. 34, 1 December 1997 (1997-12-01), pages 8929-8934, XP000728467, ISSN: 0003-6935, DOI: 10.1364/AO.36.008929
  
Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


Description

BACKGROUND



[0001] This application claims priority to U.S. application no. 62/169,683 filed June 2, 2015.

Technical Field



[0002] The embodiments described herein are related to fluorescence imaging, and more particularly to stabilizing a sample stage when in a fluorescence imaging system.

Related Art



[0003] A fluorescence microscope is a light microscope used to study properties of organic or inorganic substances using fluorescence instead of, or in addition to, reflection and absorption. The fluorescence microscope is based on the phenomenon that certain material emits energy detectable as visible light when irradiated with the light of a specific wavelength. The sample can either be fluorescing in its natural form (like chlorophyll) or it may be treated with a fluorescing stain.

[0004] A basic widefield fluorescence microscope that is well known in the art includes a light source and several filters that correspond to a wavelength matching a fluorescence stain. An excitation filter is provided for selecting an excitation wavelength of light from the light source, and a dichroic beamsplitter reflects light from the light source to illuminate the specimen. The illuminated light is separated from the much weaker emitted fluorescence with an emission filter. The fluorescing areas can be observed in the microscope and shine out against a dark background with high contrast.

[0005] A structured illumination imaging system uses much the same principle as the widefield imaging system described above, with the key that only a portion of the sample is illuminated at any one time. A large portion of the excitation light is blocked, while a pattern of unblocked illumination is swept over the entire sample such that each area of the sample receives approximately equal excitation light. Typically, multiple images are captured at discrete intervals in this process and a single fully illuminated image is generated by an image processing algorithm which analyzes the discrete input images to construct a corresponding output image. This output image is superior to an image captured using simple widefield imaging techniques due to the reduction in light gathered from out of focus areas of the sample, resulting in improved signal to noise ratio, higher lateral and axial spatial resolution, or both.

[0006] A confocal imaging system is a type of structured illumination system. A confocal imaging system can be used to improve the signal to noise ratio or increase the optical resolution. In a confocal imaging system, the objective is to image only the thin part of the sample that is in focus, rejecting all light from above and below the focus plane. This is in contrast to more basic wide-field imaging, where out-of-focus elements still appear as significant elements in the image.

[0007] Conventional confocal systems can be divided loosely into single-point confocal and multi-point confocal systems. In single-point confocal systems the illumination used to excite the dye is passed through a pinhole onto the sample, then the fluorescent emission from the sample is passed through another pinhole into a photodetector. The pinhole size and optics are designed to accept light back from only those photons emitted from the thin slice of the sample that is in focus.

[0008] The technique can only image one point. Accordingly, the beam or the sample must be scanned back and forth in two dimensions to construct a single 2D confocal image. The beam in such conventional systems is typically scanned over a fixed sample, which requires very fast, very accurate mirrors to be synchronized to the photodetector.

[0009] In a multi-point confocal system the operational principle is the same as above but multiple points are imaged in parallel. Typically a disk with a pattern of pinholes is spun such that the illumination is swept over the field of view during an exposure. An example spinning-disk confocal imaging system is illustrated in figure 5.

[0010] As can be seen in figure 5, light 802 from the light source is incident on a first disk 804 that includes a plurality of focusing lenses 806 that focus the light onto a pinhole mask 810 included in a second disk 808. Light 802 passing through pinhole mask 810 is then focused onto the specimen 814 via objective lens 812. The light 802 is absorbed by fluorophores, which causes them to emit light 816, which passes back through objective lens 812 and pinhole mask 810 and is incident on mirror 818. Mirror 818 reflects the emitted light 816 onto a sensor 822, e.g., via optics 820, where it can be detected.

[0011] A system such as that illustrated in figure 5 can capture images faster than a single-point system but such a system also requires more complex synchronization between pinholes and detectors. "Image formation and data acquisition in a stage scanning 4Pi confocal fluorescence microscope", by Soini et al., Applied Optics, Vol. 36, No. 34, 1 December 1997 and WO 2013/126999 A1 disclose fluorescence microscopes.

SUMMARY



[0012] Systems and methods for stabilizing a sample stage in a confocal imaging system are described herein.

[0013] An apparatus for generating images comprises an imaging apparatus configured to generate illumination; a sample stage configured to hold a sample to be illuminated by the illumination, the sample stage configured to move the sample to a plurality of positions during the imaging process; and a vibration mechanism coupled with the sample stage, the vibration mechanism configured to vibrate the stage after the stage moves the sample for a vibration period.

[0014] According to another aspect, a system for generating images comprises an imaging control module; an imaging apparatus configured to generate illumination; a sample stage configured to hold a sample to be illuminated by the illumination, the sample stage configured to move the sample to a plurality of positions during the imaging process; and a vibration mechanism coupled with the sample stage, the vibration mechanism configured to vibrate the stage after the stage moves the sample for a vibration period, wherein the vibration mechanism is configured to be controlled by the imaging control module such that it will vibrate the stage for the vibration period after the stage moves the sample

[0015] These and other features, aspects, and embodiments are described below in the section entitled "Detailed Description."

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



[0016] Features, aspects, and embodiments are described in conjunction with the attached drawings, in which:

Figure 1 is a diagram illustrating an example flouresence imaging system configured in accordance with one embodiment;

Figure 2 is a diagram illustrating an example embodiment of a light cube implementation of at least some of the components of figure 1;

Figure 3 is a diagram illustrating an example control system for controlling the operation of the illumination system of figure 1 in accordance with one embodiment;

Figure 4 is a diagram illustrating an example pinhole mask that can be used in the system of figure 1, and in particular in the light cube implementation of figure 2 in accordance with one embodiment;

Figure 5 is a diagram illustrating a conventional spinning-disk confocal imaging system;

Figure 6 is a block diagram illustrating an example wired or wireless system that can be used in connection with various embodiments described herein;

Figure 7 is a diagram illustrating an example translation apparatus that can be used with the system of figure 1, and in particular the light cube of figure 2 in accordance with one embodiment; and

Figures 8A and 8B are diagrams illustrating an example sample stage configured in accordance with one embodiment.


DETAILED DESCRIPTION



[0017] In the embodiments described herein, systems, appratuses and methods for producing a composite confocal image are disclosed. It will be understood that the embodiments described are by way of example only. Moreover, the figures are illustrative and intended to aid the description of the systems and methods disclosed. Thus, the figures may not comprise all of the components, circuitry, elements, etc., needed to depict a complete system. Thus, the figures and the accompanying disclosure should not be viewed as limiting the embodiments to certain configurations, nor should they be viewed as foreclosing the inclusion of further components, etc., in the configurations disclosed, or of further configurations.

[0018] As noted above, a structured illumination system has certain advantages over a conventional widefield system. A confocal imaging system is a type of structured illumination system. A confocal imaging system can be used to increase the optical resolution and contrast and enable the reconstruction of three-dimensional structures from a series of obtained images. In a confocal imaging system, the objective is to image only the thin part of the sample that is in focus, rejecting all light from above and below the focus plane. This is in contrast to more basic wide-field imaging, where out-of-focus elements still appear as significant elements in the image.

[0019] Conventional confocal systems can be divided loosely into single-point confocal and multi-point confocal systems. In single-point confocal systems the illumination used to excite the dye is passed through a pinhole onto the sample, then the fluorescent emission from the sample is passed through another pinhole into a photodetector, i.e., it is essentially a single pixel camera. The pinhole size and optics are designed to accept light back from only those photons emitted from the thin slice of the sample that is in focus.

[0020] The technique can only image one point, i.e., one pixel of an image, at a time. Accordingly, the beam or the sample must be scanned back and forth in two dimensions to construct a single 2D confocal image. The beam in such conventional systems is typically scanned over a fixed sample, which requires very fast, very accurate mirrors to be synchronized to the photodetector.

[0021] In a multi-point confocal system the operational principle is the same as above but multiple points are imaged in parallel. Typically a disk with a pattern of pinholes is spun such that the illumination is swept over the field of view during an exposure. An example spinning-disk confocal imaging system is illustrated in figure 5.

[0022] As can be seen in figure 5, light 802 from the light source is incident on a first disk 804 that includes a plurality of focusing lenses 806 that focus the light onto a pinhole mask 810 included in a second disk 808. Light 802 passing through pinhole mask 810 is then focused onto the specimen 814 via objective lens 812. The light 802 is absorbed by fluorophores, which causes them to emit light 816, which passes back through objective lens 812 and pinhole mask 810 and is incident on mirror 818. Mirror 818 reflects the emitted light 816 onto a sensor 822, e.g., via optics 820, where it can be detected.

[0023] A system such as that illustrated in figure 5 can capture images faster than a single-point system but such a system also requires more complex synchronization between pinholes and detectors.

[0024] Figure 1 is a diagram illustrating an example embodiment of a flouresence imaging system 100 configured in accordance with the system and methods described herein. As can be seen, system 100 comprises a light source 104 configured to produce illumination light 104. The source 102 can for example be a Light Emitting Diode (LED) or a Laser, depending on the implementation. Pinhole optics 106 can then focus light 102 onto a pinhole mask 108. Light passing through mask 108 is then incident on mirror 110, such as a dichroic mirror, which directs the light onto sample 114, e.g., via objective optics 112. The light 104 is absorbed by fluorophores, which causes them to emit light 116, which passes back through objective 112 and mirror 110 an onto sensor 120. A filter 118 can filter the emissions prior the emissions being incident on sensor 120.

[0025] It should be noted that in certain embodiments, system 100 can include a pinhole mask in the path of light emissions 116 as in conventional systems; however, as explained in detail below, the emissions path pinhole mask can be eliminated in other embodiments.

[0026] Sensor 120 can, e.g., be a Charged Coupled Device (CCD) or a CMOS device. Further, the pinhole mask can be a square, rectangular or oval mask that is moved in an x-y plane, e.g., as opposed to being rotated on a disk. Figure 4 is a diagram illustrating an example mask 500 in accordance with one embodiment. As can be seen, mask 500 can comprise multiple pinhole masks, such as masks 501 and 502.

[0027] As illustrated in figure 2, the light source 102, imaging optics 106, mask 108, mirror 110 and filter 118 can be included in a very compact light cube 200. The light cube can also include a circuit board 202 that can be configured to communicate with a control system and to control various aspects of the light cube 200. Thus, the mask 500 of figure 4 can be configured to be inserted into light cube 200.

[0028] Fluorescence microscopy uses a wide variety of dyes, or fluorophores. Each dye has a specific range of excitation wavelengths where it absorbs light and a range of emission wavelengths where it releases light. Excitation light is shined indiscriminately across the entire sample, while emission light is released from only those specific parts of the sample where dyes are located. The goal of fluorescence microscopy is to capture as much of the emission and as little of the excitation light as possible. This is accomplished through the use of filters. To image a specific dye a filter set is designed to allow only excitation wavelengths to illuminate the sample, and only emission wavelengths to pass through to the camera.

[0029] A confocal system adds the requirement that the excitation light pass through a pinhole before reaching the sample. Further complicating matters in terms of system design and operation, the pinhole should be located at a conjugate plane, where the rays of light are converging together, while the filters should be located in infinity space, where the rays of light are parallel.

[0030] There are two conventional methods for the use of filters. In one case, the system can use fixed filters that are not removable during normal operation. These filters are usually designed to work with a predetermined set of one or more dyes. In other embodiments, a set of multiband filters can be used as long as a good monochromatic light source is also being used. These approaches have the advantage of mechanical simplicity, but the disadvantage of requiring major effort to remove and replace the filters in order to use a dye not supported by the current filter set. A more common strategy is to use movable filters, which allows a greater variety of dyes to be used without servicing the microscope. A conventional set up of this type uses a filter wheel to rotate different filters into position depending on the dye being used. An illumination module that can provide several different wavelengths of excitation light is often paired with the filter wheels to create a system that can be configured to work with different dyes.

[0031] Several sets of optics are required to direct the excitation light. First, the LED or other light source used to supply the excitation light typically has an integrated lens. Optics are placed between this and the pinhole to direct a maximum of light through the pinhole or pinhole array. After the light passes through the pinhole, another set of optics is used to image the pinhole into infinity space; taking the divergent light rays exiting the pinhole and bending them so that they are parallel. The optics must be carefully designed to avoid introducing optical or chromatic aberrations in the image. In a traditional system each of these elements is mounted separately and each has its own alignment and calibration process.

[0032] The light cube 200 of figure 2 can combine at least some of the excitation light source 102, illumination optics 204, filters 118, and mask imaging optics 106 into a single package that is optimized for a specific dye. In certain embodiments, one or more of these components, e.g., the excitation light source 102, can remain outside of cube 200. The light cube can then be mounted on a movable platform that allows multiple light cubes to be used in sequence to capture images from a variety of dyes. Light cubes can be installed by the user and will communicate with the system, e.g., via circuits on circuit board 202 to identify themselves to the control system.

[0033] The light cube mounting features are designed such that the cube is self-aligning, requiring little to no calibration once mounted. For example, the light cube can be mounted using kinematic, dovetail or other mechanical guides that fully constrain the rotation of the mirror and at least partially constrain the position of the cube such that the mirror is inserted into the optics path at the same position and in the same orientation each time the cube in installed.

[0034] Further, all adjustments to the optics around the excitation light source, mask imaging optics and dichroic mirror can be completed before the light cube is installed. The slide containing the pinhole mask 108 is inserted through a slit in the side of the light cube 200. This approach allows quick and easy changes of filter sets, which means the user can optimize the system for whatever specific dye is being used. In a conventional filter wheel setup, changing out filters can be a difficult process requiring partial disassembly and recalibration of the microscope.

[0035] Imaging optics 106 are often infinity corrected such that the image of the mask 108 is in infinity space. This can make the alignment of the optics complicated. Accordingly, in alternative embodiments, the imaging optics 106 can be fixed outside of the light cube 200. In this manner, the optics can be aligned more easily and then the cube 200 can be installed. In such an embodiment, some kind of opening is incorporated into cube 200 in order to accommodate the fixed optics.

[0036] In still another embodiment, e.g., finite tube optics can be used, which would result in a finite focal space.

[0037] As noted above, a mask pattern that is based on a cylindrical coordinate system can be used. Thus, in certain embodiments, a spinning disk confocal can be used instead of the slide 108. In such embodiments, the spinning disk confocal would need to be positioned such that is was in the optical path after the mirror 110.

[0038] Figure 3 is a diagram illustrating an example control system 400 for controlling the operation of illumination system 100. As can be seen, system 400 comprises an image authority 412. Image authority 412 can comprise all of the resources need to implement certain portions of the system sand methods described herein. Thus, authority 412 can comprise all of the hardware and software resources needed for those portions including one or more processors, including any signal processors, math co-processors, microcontrollers, etc., one or more servers, one or more routers, one or more terminals, one or more computers, including desk top or portable computers, and all the API's, programs, software modules, etc., needed to perform the those portions or aspects of the systems and methods described herein. Thus, a module such as those described herein can comprise the hardware and software resources needed to perform the specified function.

[0039] Specifically, authority 412 can comprise various modules configured to control the operation of system 100 and to process data obtained therefrom. As illustrated in figure 3, these modules can include an image control module 402, which can be configured to control the translation stages in system 100, e.g., via a translation control module 406. Control module 402 can also be configured to control the illumination via illumination control module 408.

[0040] Authority 410 can also comprise a processing module 404 configured to process the image data obtained by sensor 120.

[0041] It should be noted that some or all of translation control module 406 and illumination control module 408 can reside within system 100, e.g., within light cube 200 or within the translation stage to which cube 200 is interfaced.

[0042] As described above, instead of a spinning disk, as illustrated in figure 5, a pattern of pinholes can be printed on a small, e.g., glass slide as illustrated in figure 4. This slide can be held in front of the excitation light source 102, e.g., as in the light cube configuration of figure 2. The mask is moved around using small translation stages which position the mask in the appropriate location to illuminate a different part of the sample before each capture. It will be noted, as it was above that the actual mask can comprise other patterns besides pinholes.

[0043] Figure 7 is a diagram illustrating an example configuration of the translation apparatus 900, including a plurality of translation stages 902 a, b, and c as well as tip/tilt adjustment mechanism 904 in accordance with one embodiment. As can be seen, the translation stages 902 and the tip/tilt adjustment mechanism 904 can move and position the mask 108, e.g., under the control of control module 402 and translation control 406. This type of translation apparatus 900 in addition to the light cube 200 provides a simple and compact solution that allows for several different pinhole patterns, e.g., 501 and 502, to be printed on each slide. This allows for more flexibility, giving the user a choice between speed and quality.

[0044] Another important consideration in microscopy is keeping the sample stationary during observation. Movement during a capture will blur the image, reducing both the qualitative and quantitative value of the image. This issue is especially relevant to fluorescence microscopy, where longer exposure times offer more chance of noticeable sample movement. This movement is often caused by the mechanics of the sample stage, particularly the bearings, relaxing into an equilibrium position after making a large move. An equilibrium position is one in which the forces acting on the stage are balanced to the point where no movement is evident after a given time interval. There is not precise definition or measurement, since the amount of movement that must take place to be considered significant varies greatly depending on the application. In certain applications, for example, the stage can be considered to be in equilibrium when it moves no more than 50 microns during a three minute period.

[0045] After the stage is driven to a given location and has apparently stopped there is often small movement for another several seconds to several minutes. During a single widefield capture at a low magnification this typically has negligible effect on image quality. However, during a longer exposure or a sequence of exposures, like those described herein for constructing a confocal image, this can become problematic. If the sample shifts position between the first and last captures used to construct the fully illuminated image there may be certain features that are captured twice, and certain features that are not captured at all. The result is an image that does not accurately represent the sample.

[0046] This problem can be solved with a variety of approaches. The simplest strategy is to wait after moving, giving the system time to naturally relax into an equilibrium point. While straightforward, this is often impractical due to the need to capture images from many regions of a sample in a set amount of time. Very high quality stage construction can mitigate this problem to the point where it does not inhibit confocal image captures, but this can be cost prohibitive and require regular maintenance. High resolution linear encoders can be paired with piezoelectric actuators to track and correct any position errors in real time, but this adds significant cost and complexity.

[0047] In certain embodiment, as illustrated in figure 8A and B, system 100 can include a sample stage that uses a small vibration mechanism 802, e.g., an electric motor rotating an eccentric weight, to vibrate the sample stage 804, allowing the stage to move into an equilibrium point in less than a second. This compares favorably to the several minutes it can take without vibration. The vibration causes the stage 804 to move slightly around the starting position, relaxing any tension in the bearings (not shown) that support the stage 804 and the motor-screw-nut interface (also not shown) used to move the stage 804. Once in this position, the sample should be stationary enough to run up to a several minute routine of partial captures that constitute a single confocal image. The motor 802 can be fastened to the fixed position stage plate and can be activated automatically, e.g., under the control of control module 401 and translation control 406, before a confocal capture routine is started. The motor 802 can, e.g., be driven at three Volts for one second, reaching a rotational speed of several thousand revolutions per minute.

[0048] It will be understood that the embodiment of figures 8A and B are by way of example only and that the motor 802 can be mounted in different location on the stage 804 as long as the vibrations are sufficient to cause the requisite settling of the stage.

[0049] As can be seen in figure 8B, the mechanism 802 can be mounted to stage 804 via a housing 806. The housing must be configured such that the mechanism 802 can cause the stage to vibrate and settle as required.

[0050] Figure 6 is a block diagram illustrating an example wired or wireless system 550 that can be used in connection with various embodiments described herein. For example the system 550 can be used as or in conjunction with one or more of the mechanisms or processes described above, and may represent components of system 100 or 400, the corresponding server(s), and/or other devices described herein. The system 550 can be a combination of one or more of the following: a server or any conventional personal computer, or any other processor-enabled device that is capable of wired or wireless data communication. Other computer systems and/or architectures may be also used, as will be clear to those skilled in the art.

[0051] The system 550 preferably includes one or more processors, such as processor 560. Additional processors may be provided, such as an auxiliary processor to manage input/output, an auxiliary processor to perform floating point mathematical operations, a special-purpose microprocessor having an architecture suitable for fast execution of signal processing algorithms (e.g., digital signal processor), a slave processor subordinate to the main processing system (e.g., back-end processor), an additional microprocessor or controller for dual or multiple processor systems, or a coprocessor. Such auxiliary processors may be discrete processors or may be integrated with the processor 560. Examples of processors which may be used with system 550 include, without limitation, the Pentium® processor, Core i7® processor, and Xeon® processor, all of which are available from Intel Corporation of Santa Clara, California.

[0052] The processor 560 is preferably connected to a communication bus 555. The communication bus 555 may include a data channel for facilitating information transfer between storage and other peripheral components of the system 550. The communication bus 555 further may provide a set of signals used for communication with the processor 560, including a data bus, address bus, and control bus (not shown). The communication bus 555 may comprise any standard or non-standard bus architecture such as, for example, bus architectures compliant with industry standard architecture (ISA), extended industry standard architecture (EISA), Micro Channel Architecture (MCA), peripheral component interconnect (PCI) local bus, or standards promulgated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) including IEEE 488 general-purpose interface bus (GPIB), IEEE 696/S-100, and the like.

[0053] System 550 preferably includes a main memory 565 and may also include a secondary memory 570. The main memory 565 provides storage of instructions and data for programs executing on the processor 560, such as one or more of the functions and/or modules discussed above. It should be understood that programs stored in the memory and executed by processor 560 may be written and/or compiled according to any suitable language, including without limitation C/C++, Java, JavaScript, Pearl, Visual Basic, .NET, and the like. The main memory 565 is typically semiconductor-based memory such as dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and/or static random access memory (SRAM). Other semiconductor-based memory types include, for example, synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM), Rambus dynamic random access memory (RDRAM), ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM), and the like, including read only memory (ROM).

[0054] The secondary memory 570 may optionally include an internal memory 575 and/or a removable medium 580, for example a floppy disk drive, a magnetic tape drive, a compact disc (CD) drive, a digital versatile disc (DVD) drive, other optical drive, a flash memory drive, etc. The removable medium 580 is read from and/or written to in a well-known manner. Removable storage medium 580 may be, for example, a floppy disk, magnetic tape, CD, DVD, SD card, etc.

[0055] The removable storage medium 580 is a non-transitory computer-readable medium having stored thereon computer executable code (i.e., software) and/or data. The computer software or data stored on the removable storage medium 580 is read into the system 550 for execution by the processor 560.

[0056] In alternative embodiments, secondary memory 570 may include other similar means for allowing computer programs or other data or instructions to be loaded into the system 550. Such means may include, for example, an external storage medium 595 and an interface 590. Examples of external storage medium 595 may include an external hard disk drive or an external optical drive, or and external magneto-optical drive.

[0057] Other examples of secondary memory 570 may include semiconductor-based memory such as programmable read-only memory (PROM), erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM), electrically erasable read-only memory (EEPROM), or flash memory (block oriented memory similar to EEPROM). Also included are any other removable storage media 580 and communication interface 590, which allow software and data to be transferred from an external medium 595 to the system 550.

[0058] System 550 may include a communication interface 590. The communication interface 590 allows software and data to be transferred between system 550 and external devices (e.g. printers), networks, or information sources. For example, computer software or executable code may be transferred to system 550 from a network server via communication interface 590. Examples of communication interface 590 include a built-in network adapter, network interface card (NIC), Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) network card, card bus network adapter, wireless network adapter, Universal Serial Bus (USB) network adapter, modem, a network interface card (NIC), a wireless data card, a communications port, an infrared interface, an IEEE 1394 fire-wire, or any other device capable of interfacing system 550 with a network or another computing device.

[0059] Communication interface 590 preferably implements industry promulgated protocol standards, such as Ethernet IEEE 802 standards, Fiber Channel, digital subscriber line (DSL), asynchronous digital subscriber line (ADSL), frame relay, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), integrated digital services network (ISDN), personal communications services (PCS), transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), serial line Internet protocol/point to point protocol (SLIP/PPP), and so on, but may also implement customized or non-standard interface protocols as well.

[0060] Software and data transferred via communication interface 590 are generally in the form of electrical communication signals 605. These signals 605 are preferably provided to communication interface 590 via a communication channel 600. In one embodiment, the communication channel 600 may be a wired or wireless network, or any variety of other communication links. Communication channel 600 carries signals 605 and can be implemented using a variety of wired or wireless communication means including wire or cable, fiber optics, conventional phone line, cellular phone link, wireless data communication link, radio frequency ("RF") link, or infrared link, just to name a few.

[0061] Computer executable code (i.e., computer programs or software) is stored in the main memory 565 and/or the secondary memory 570. Computer programs can also be received via communication interface 590 and stored in the main memory 565 and/or the secondary memory 570. Such computer programs, when executed, enable the system 550 to perform the various functions of the present invention as previously described.

[0062] In this description, the term "computer readable medium" is used to refer to any non-transitory computer readable storage media used to provide computer executable code (e.g., software and computer programs) to the system 550. Examples of these media include main memory 565, secondary memory 570 (including internal memory 575, removable medium 580, and external storage medium 595), and any peripheral device communicatively coupled with communication interface 590 (including a network information server or other network device). These non-transitory computer readable mediums are means for providing executable code, programming instructions, and software to the system 550.

[0063] In an embodiment that is implemented using software, the software may be stored on a computer readable medium and loaded into the system 550 by way of removable medium 580, I/O interface 585, or communication interface 590. In such an embodiment, the software is loaded into the system 550 in the form of electrical communication signals 605. The software, when executed by the processor 560, preferably causes the processor 560 to perform the inventive features and functions previously described herein.

[0064] In an embodiment, I/O interface 585 provides an interface between one or more components of system 550 and one or more input and/or output devices. Example input devices include, without limitation, keyboards, touch screens or other touch-sensitive devices, biometric sensing devices, computer mice, trackballs, pen-based pointing devices, and the like. Examples of output devices include, without limitation, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), plasma displays, light-emitting diode (LED) displays, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), printers, vacuum florescent displays (VFDs), surface-conduction electron-emitter displays (SEDs), field emission displays (FEDs), and the like.

[0065] The system 550 also includes optional wireless communication components that facilitate wireless communication over a voice and over a data network. The wireless communication components comprise an antenna system 610, a radio system 615 and a baseband system 620. In the system 550, radio frequency (RF) signals are transmitted and received over the air by the antenna system 610 under the management of the radio system 615.

[0066] In one embodiment, the antenna system 610 may comprise one or more antennae and one or more multiplexors (not shown) that perform a switching function to provide the antenna system 610 with transmit and receive signal paths. In the receive path, received RF signals can be coupled from a multiplexor to a low noise amplifier (not shown) that amplifies the received RF signal and sends the amplified signal to the radio system 615.

[0067] In alternative embodiments, the radio system 615 may comprise one or more radios that are configured to communicate over various frequencies. In one embodiment, the radio system 615 may combine a demodulator (not shown) and modulator (not shown) in one integrated circuit (IC). The demodulator and modulator can also be separate components. In the incoming path, the demodulator strips away the RF carrier signal leaving a baseband receive audio signal, which is sent from the radio system 615 to the baseband system 620.

[0068] If the received signal contains audio information, then baseband system 620 decodes the signal and converts it to an analog signal. Then the signal is amplified and sent to a speaker. The baseband system 620 also receives analog audio signals from a microphone. These analog audio signals are converted to digital signals and encoded by the baseband system 620. The baseband system 620 also codes the digital signals for transmission and generates a baseband transmit audio signal that is routed to the modulator portion of the radio system 615. The modulator mixes the baseband transmit audio signal with an RF carrier signal generating an RF transmit signal that is routed to the antenna system and may pass through a power amplifier (not shown). The power amplifier amplifies the RF transmit signal and routes it to the antenna system 610 where the signal is switched to the antenna port for transmission.

[0069] The baseband system 620 is also communicatively coupled with the processor 560. The central processing unit 560 has access to data storage areas 565 and 570. The central processing unit 560 is preferably configured to execute instructions (i.e., computer programs or software) that can be stored in the memory 565 or the secondary memory 570. Computer programs can also be received from the baseband processor 610 and stored in the data storage area 565 or in secondary memory 570, or executed upon receipt. Such computer programs, when executed, enable the system 550 to perform the various functions of the present invention as previously described. For example, data storage areas 565 may include various software modules (not shown).

[0070] Various embodiments may also be implemented primarily in hardware using, for example, components such as application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), or field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Implementation of a hardware state machine capable of performing the functions described herein will also be apparent to those skilled in the relevant art. Various embodiments may also be implemented using a combination of both hardware and software.

[0071] Furthermore, those of skill in the art will appreciate that the various illustrative logical blocks, modules, circuits, and method steps described in connection with the above described figures and the embodiments disclosed herein can often be implemented as electronic hardware, computer software, or combinations of both. To clearly illustrate this interchangeability of hardware and software, various illustrative components, blocks, modules, circuits, and steps have been described above generally in terms of their functionality. Whether such functionality is implemented as hardware or software depends upon the particular application and design constraints imposed on the overall system. Skilled persons can implement the described functionality in varying ways for each particular application, but such implementation decisions should not be interpreted as causing a departure from the scope of the invention. In addition, the grouping of functions within a module, block, circuit or step is for ease of description. Specific functions or steps can be moved from one module, block or circuit to another.

[0072] Moreover, the various illustrative logical blocks, modules, functions, and methods described in connection with the embodiments disclosed herein can be implemented or performed with a general purpose processor, a digital signal processor (DSP), an ASIC, FPGA or other programmable logic device, discrete gate or transistor logic, discrete hardware components, or any combination thereof designed to perform the functions described herein. A general-purpose processor can be a microprocessor, but in the alternative, the processor can be any processor, controller, microcontroller, or state machine. A processor can also be implemented as a combination of computing devices, for example, a combination of a DSP and a microprocessor, a plurality of microprocessors, one or more microprocessors in conjunction with a DSP core, or any other such configuration.

[0073] Additionally, the steps of a method or algorithm described in connection with the embodiments disclosed herein can be embodied directly in hardware, in a software module executed by a processor, or in a combination of the two. A software module can reside in RAM memory, flash memory, ROM memory, EPROM memory, EEPROM memory, registers, hard disk, a removable disk, a CD-ROM, or any other form of storage medium including a network storage medium. An exemplary storage medium can be coupled to the processor such that the processor can read information from, and write information to, the storage medium. In the alternative, the storage medium can be integral to the processor. The processor and the storage medium can also reside in an ASIC.

[0074] Any of the software components described herein may take a variety of forms. For example, a component may be a stand-alone software package, or it may be a software package incorporated as a "tool" in a larger software product. It may be downloadable from a network, for example, a website, as a stand-alone product or as an add-in package for installation in an existing software application. It may also be available as a client-server software application, as a web-enabled software application, and/or as a mobile application.

[0075] While certain embodiments have been described above, it will be understood that the embodiments described are by way of example only. Accordingly, the systems and methods described herein should not be limited based on the described embodiments. Rather, the systems and methods described herein should only be limited in light of the claims that follow when taken in conjunction with the above description and accompanying drawings.


Claims

1. An apparatus for generating images, comprising:

an imaging apparatus configured to generate illumination; and

a sample stage (804) configured to hold a sample to be illuminated by the illumination, the sample stage configured to move the sample to a plurality of positions during the imaging process;

the apparatus characterized by further comprising a vibration mechanism (802) coupled with the sample stage, the vibration mechanism (802) configured to vibrate the stage after the stage moves the sample for a vibration period.


 
2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the vibration mechanism (802) is a motor.
 
3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the motor can reach a rotational speed of greater than one thousand rotations per minute, and preferably, wherein the motor can reach a rotational speed of greater than two thousand rotations per minute.
 
4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the imaging apparatus comprises:

an illumination source (102);

pinhole optics (106), the pinhole optics (106) configured to focus illumination from the illumination source (102) after it passes through a pinhole mask (108) to infinite space; and

a reflector (110) configured to reflect the illumination to a sample (114);

a filter apparatus (118), comprising one or more filters, the filter apparatus (118) configured to allow only emissions from the illuminated sample once illuminated to pass through to a sensor (120).


 
5. The apparatus of claim 4, further comprising a housing (806) and wherein the illumination source (102), pinhole optics (106), reflector (110) and filter apparatus (118) are all included within the housing.
 
6. The apparatus of claim 5, wherein the housing (806) comprises mounting features configured to allow the apparatus to be installed within an imaging system.
 
7. The apparatus of claim 6, further comprising a mounting structure configured to allow a plurality of imaging apparatus to be installed within the imaging system.
 
8. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the vibration mechanism (802) is configured to be controlled by an imaging control module (402) such that it will vibrate the stage for the vibration period each time the stage (804) move the sample.
 
9. A system for generating images, comprising:

the apparatus of claim 1; and

an imaging control module (402), wherein the vibration mechanism (802) is configured to be controlled by the imaging control module (402) such that it will vibrate the stage (804) for the vibration period after the stage (804) moves the sample.


 
10. The system of claim 9, wherein the vibration mechanism (802) is a motor.
 
11. The system of claim 10, wherein the motor can reach a rotational speed of greater than one thousand rotations per minute, and preferably, wherein the motor can reach a rotational speed of greater than two thousand rotations per minute.
 
12. The system of claim 9, wherein the imaging apparatus comprises:

an illumination source (102);

pinhole optics (106), the pinhole optics (106) configured to focus illumination from the illumination source (102) after it passes through a pinhole mask (108) to infinite space; and

a reflector (110) configured to reflect the illumination to a sample;

a filter apparatus (118), comprising one or more filters, the filter apparatus (118) configured to allow only emissions from the illuminated sample once illuminated to pass through to a sensor (120).


 
13. The system of claim 12, further comprising a housing (806) and wherein the illumination source (102), pinhole optics (106), reflector (110) and filter apparatus (118) are all included within the housing (806).
 
14. The system of claim 13, wherein the housing (806) comprises mounting features configured to allow the apparatus to be installed within an imaging system.
 
15. The system of claim 14, further comprising a mounting structure configured to allow a plurality of imaging apparatus to be installed within the imaging system.
 


Ansprüche

1. Vorrichtung zum Erzeugen von Bildern, umfassend:

eine Bildgebungsvorrichtung, die dazu konfiguriert ist, eine Beleuchtung zu erzeugen; und

einen Probentisch (804), der dazu konfiguriert ist, eine Probe zu halten, die durch die Beleuchtung beleuchtet werden soll, wobei der Probentisch dazu konfiguriert ist, die Probe während des Bildgebungsprozesses in mehrere Positionen zu bewegen;

wobei die Vorrichtung dadurch gekennzeichnet ist, dass sie ferner einen Vibrationsmechanismus (802) umfasst, der mit dem Probentisch gekoppelt ist, wobei der Vibrationsmechanismus (802) dazu konfiguriert ist, den Tisch zu vibrieren, nachdem der Tisch die Probe für eine Vibrationsperiode bewegt hat.


 
2. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Vibrationsmechanismus (802) ein Motor ist.
 
3. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 2, wobei der Motor eine Rotationsgeschwindigkeit von mehr als eintausend Umdrehungen pro Minute erreichen kann, wobei der Motor vorzugsweise eine Rotationsgeschwindigkeit von mehr als zweitausend Umdrehungen pro Minute erreichen kann.
 
4. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Bildgebungsvorrichtung umfasst:

eine Beleuchtungsquelle (102);

eine Lochblende (106), wobei die Lochblende (106) dazu konfiguriert ist, die Beleuchtung von der Beleuchtungsquelle (102) zu fokussieren, nachdem sie durch eine Lochmaske (108) in den unendlichen Raum gelangt; und

einen Reflektor (110), der dazu konfiguriert ist, die Beleuchtung auf eine Probe (114) zu reflektieren;

eine Filtervorrichtung (118), die einen oder mehrere Filter umfasst, wobei die Filtervorrichtung (118) derart konfiguriert ist, dass nur Emissionen von der beleuchteten Probe, nachdem diese beleuchtet ist, zu einem Sensor (120) hindurchgelangen können.


 
5. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 4, ferner umfassend ein Gehäuse (806), wobei die Beleuchtungsquelle (102), die Lochblende (106), der Reflektor (110) und die Filtervorrichtung (118) alle in dem Gehäuse untergebracht sind.
 
6. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 5, wobei das Gehäuse (806) Befestigungsmerkmale umfasst, die dazu konfiguriert sind, die Installation der Vorrichtung innerhalb eines Bildgebungssystems zu ermöglichen.
 
7. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 6, ferner umfassend eine Befestigungsstruktur, die dazu konfiguriert ist, die Installation mehrerer Bildgebungsvorrichtungen innerhalb des Bildgebungssystems zu ermöglichen.
 
8. Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1, wobei der Vibrationsmechanismus (802) dazu konfiguriert ist, durch ein Bildgebungssteuerungsmodul (402) gesteuert zu werden, so dass er den Tisch für die Vibrationsperiode jedes Mal vibriert, wenn der Tisch (804) die Probe bewegt.
 
9. System zum Erzeugen von Bildern, umfassend:

die Vorrichtung nach Anspruch 1; und

ein Bildgebungssteuermodul (402), wobei der Vibrationsmechanismus (802) derart konfiguriert ist, dass er von dem Bildgebungssteuerungsmodul (402) gesteuert wird, so dass er den Tisch (804) für die Vibrationsperiode vibriert, nachdem der Tisch (804) die Probe bewegt.


 
10. System nach Anspruch 9, wobei der Vibrationsmechanismus (802) ein Motor ist.
 
11. System nach Anspruch 10, wobei der Motor eine Rotationsgeschwindigkeit von mehr als eintausend Umdrehungen pro Minute erreichen kann, wobei der Motor vorzugsweise eine Rotationsgeschwindigkeit von mehr als zweitausend Umdrehungen pro Minute erreichen kann.
 
12. System nach Anspruch 9, wobei die Bildgebungsvorrichtung umfasst:

eine Beleuchtungsquelle (102);

eine Lochblende (106), wobei die Lochblende (106) dazu konfiguriert ist, die Beleuchtung von der Beleuchtungsquelle (102) zu fokussieren, nachdem sie durch eine Lochmaske (108) in den unendlichen Raum gelangt; und

einen Reflektor (110), der dazu konfiguriert ist, die Beleuchtung auf eine Probe zu reflektieren;

eine Filtervorrichtung (118), die einen oder mehrere Filter umfasst, wobei die Filtervorrichtung (118) derart konfiguriert ist, dass nur Emissionen von der beleuchteten Probe, nachdem diese beleuchtet ist, zu einem Sensor (120) hindurchgelangen können.


 
13. System nach Anspruch 12, ferner umfassend ein Gehäuse (806), wobei die Beleuchtungsquelle (102), die Lochblende (106), der Reflektor (110) und die Filtervorrichtung (118) alle innerhalb des Gehäuses (806) untergebracht sind.
 
14. System nach Anspruch 13, wobei das Gehäuse (806) Befestigungsmerkmale umfasst, die dazu konfiguriert sind, die Installation der Vorrichtung innerhalb eines Bildgebungssystems zu ermöglichen.
 
15. System nach Anspruch 14, ferner umfassend eine Befestigungsstruktur, die dazu konfiguriert ist, die Installation mehrerer Bildgebungsvorrichtungen innerhalb des Bildgebungssystems zu ermöglichen.
 


Revendications

1. Appareil destiné à la génération d'images, comprenant :

un appareil d'imagerie conçu pour générer un éclairage ; et

une platine d'échantillon (804) conçu pour contenir un échantillon devant être éclairé par l'éclairage, la platine d'échantillon étant conçu pour déplacer l'échantillon vers une pluralité de positions pendant le processus d'imagerie ;

l'appareil caractérisé en ce qu'il comprend en outre un mécanisme de vibration (802) accouplé à la platine d'échantillon, le mécanisme de vibration (802) étant conçu pour faire vibrer la platine après que la platine a déplacé l'échantillon pendant une période de vibration.


 
2. Appareil selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le mécanisme de vibration (802) est un moteur.
 
3. Appareil selon la revendication 2, dans lequel le moteur peut atteindre une vitesse de rotation supérieure à mille tours par minute et de préférence, dans lequel le moteur peut atteindre une vitesse de rotation supérieure à deux mille tours par minute.
 
4. Appareil selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'appareil d'imagerie comprend :

une source d'éclairage (102) ;

une optique de sténopé (106), l'optique de sténopé (106) étant conçue pour focaliser l'éclairage depuis la source d'éclairage (102) après son passage à travers un masque de sténopé (108) vers un espace infini ; et

un réflecteur (110) conçu pour réfléchir l'éclairage sur un échantillon (114) ;

un appareil de filtrage (118), comprenant un ou plusieurs filtres, l'appareil de filtrage (118) étant conçu pour ne laisser passer que les émissions de l'échantillon éclairé une fois éclairé vers un capteur (120).


 
5. Appareil selon la revendication 4, comprenant en outre un boîtier (806) et dans lequel la source d'éclairage (102), l'optique de sténopé (106), le réflecteur (110) et l' appareil de filtrage (118) sont tous inclus à l'intérieur du boîtier.
 
6. Appareil selon la revendication 5, dans lequel le boîtier (806) comprend des caractéristiques de montage conçues pour permettre à l'appareil d'être installé à l'intérieur d'un système d'imagerie.
 
7. Appareil selon la revendication 6, comprenant en outre une structure de montage conçue pour permettre l'installation d'une pluralité d'appareils d'imagerie à l'intérieur du système d'imagerie.
 
8. Appareil selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le mécanisme de vibration (802) est conçu pour être commandé par un module de commande d'imagerie (402) de telle sorte qu'il fera vibrer la platine pendant la période de vibration chaque fois que la platine (804) déplace l'échantillon.
 
9. Système destiné à la génération d'images, comprenant :

l'appareil selon la revendication 1 ; et

un module de commande d'imagerie (402), dans lequel le mécanisme de vibration (802) est conçu pour être commandé par le module de commande d'imagerie (402) de telle sorte qu'il fera vibrer la platine (804) pendant la période de vibration après que la platine (804) déplace l'échantillon.


 
10. Système selon la revendication 9, dans lequel le mécanisme de vibration (802) est un moteur.
 
11. Système selon la revendication 10, dans lequel le moteur peut atteindre une vitesse de rotation supérieure à mille tours par minute et de préférence, dans lequel le moteur peut atteindre une vitesse de rotation supérieure à deux mille tours par minute.
 
12. Système selon la revendication 9, dans lequel l'appareil d'imagerie comprend :

une source d'éclairage (102) ;

une optique de sténopé (106), l'optique de sténopé (106) étant conçue pour focaliser l'éclairage depuis la source d'éclairage (102) après son passage à travers un masque de sténopé (108) vers un espace infini ; et

un réflecteur (110) conçu pour réfléchir l'éclairage sur un échantillon ;

un appareil de filtrage (118), comprenant un ou plusieurs filtres, l'appareil de filtrage (118) étant conçu pour ne laisser passer que les émissions de l'échantillon éclairé une fois éclairé vers un capteur (120).


 
13. Système selon la revendication 12, comprenant en outre un boîtier (806) et dans lequel la source d'éclairage (102), l'optique de sténopé (106), le réflecteur (110) et l'appareil de filtrage (118) sont tous inclus à l'intérieur du boîtier (806).
 
14. Système selon la revendication 13, dans lequel le boîtier (806) comprend des caractéristiques de montage conçues pour permettre à l'appareil d'être installé à l'intérieur d'un système d'imagerie.
 
15. Système selon la revendication 14, comprenant en outre une structure de montage conçue pour permettre l'installation d'une pluralité d'appareils d'imagerie à l'intérieur du système d'imagerie.
 




Drawing



























REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

Patent documents cited in the description




Non-patent literature cited in the description