Background: since their introduction and widespread use in the late 17th Century, microscopes have moved from qualitative, image collecting tools to automated, complex instruments capable of acquiring information-rich images. Observing a sample is often insufficient; there is a need to back-up these observations with quantitative information. Good imaging using advanced fluorescent microscopes requires the microscopes to be well maintained and calibrated (quality controlled (QC)). In order to allow this and to facilitate reproducible and quantifiable microscope-based measurements, there is a need for in-depth QC procedures going far beyond that required for simple qualitative observations.
The problem: publication of research performed with fluorescent microscopes currently does not require any proof of the quality of the instrument used to obtain the images. This limits reproducibility and standardisation and makes it difficult to know the accuracy of the quantitative analysis performed. The lack of such quality control information is made more difficult because there is no simple and agreed way in which to obtain this information and track it over time in a standardised manner. Recently, there have been commercial and academic efforts to develop standard QC samples and with them has come some level of automated analysis software. But the question of standardising QC practices for microscope custodians still remains. Indeed a recent bioimaging community survey performed in advance of the 2019 facility managers meeting highlighted the diverse nature of QC practices across UK imaging facilities.
With this FIG we hope to kick-start discussions within the UK light microscopy community to address the issue of microscope QC, initially focusing on widefield and confocal platforms but later expanding to super-res.
Samples & Measurements: agree on what the pertinent QC measurements are and how often to make them. Propose standard samples and liaise with manufacturers to test them.
Automation: work with microscope manufacturers and software developers to automate the process of QC data capture and image analysis.
Policy: work with manufacturers to include QC metrics into image metadata. Influence policy makers to request that microscope performance data be supplied with published observations