When describing the future of microscopy, Jan Huisken imagines an alien landing for the first time on earth, trying to size up the human species.
After seeing a few dozen subjects, the alien might get thrown off by some people wearing glasses, others with long or short hair, or differences in stature. But it will eventually figure out the patterns: This species has two arms and legs, two eyes, a mouth, two ears, etc. It would define the baseline, then focus more on features such as height, gender, pigmentation, eye color, and other interesting traits.
Huisken wants research microscopes capable of doing the same thing.
“In an attempt to understand how diverse development is, we don’t want to image specimens hundreds of times blindly,” says Huisken. “After the first handful, we should figure out what an organism looks like, then go out and find the defining features and the peculiarities that tell us more.”
As the medical engineering lead at Morgridge, Huisken will continue his innovations in “smart microscopy” by building custom devices both for his own lab and for the campus research community. The concept is creating microscopes that are customized, self-learning and to some degree self-directed, being able to separate the meaningful from the mundane.
Huisken invented light sheet microscopy, which captures the sensitive biology of live specimens in an almost entirely unaltered environment. Huisken fielded a few questions recently about smart microscopy and his plans at Morgridge and UW-Madison, where he is a professor of biomedical engineering.