Technology ID

Miniature Serial Microtome for Block-Face Imaging

Lead Inventor
Briggman, Kevin (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
Software / Apps
Research Materials
Non-Medical Devices
Medical Devices
Consumer Products
Therapeutic Areas
Infectious Disease
Development Stages
Pre-Clinical (in vitro)
Development Status
  • In vitro data available
  • Prototype
Lead IC
A microtome device is used in a variety of microcopy techniques to remove very thin (e.g., in the tens of nanometers range) portions from the top of a sample between successive images. This technology discloses a design for a microtome device that offers several unique features and advantages over commercially available microtomes. A prototype of the microtome has been built and demonstrated to work with a serial block-face scanning electron microscopy in order to serially collect ultrathin sections from plastic embedded biological tissues, specifically from brain tissues. This microtome design allows for a sample to be cut at a location removed from the electron beam axis, thus reducing interference from debris and allowing imaging at a greater range of working distances. This microtome device is lightweight and easy to install utilizing the built-in stage of existing microscopes such that a sample's position and orientation can be controlled along three-axes of rectilinear translation and two axes of rotation. This microtome design utilizes a diamond blade coupled to both the base plate and an actuator to control the movement of the blade in a direction perpendicular to the exposed surface of the pedestal, while producing an output signal that indicates the blade location with respect to the base plate. Advantageously, this allows for a stage coupled pedestal to be moved accurately from an imaging location on the beam axis to a cutting location off the beam axis.
Commercial Applications

Can be used in a variety of microscopy techniques:
  • scanning electron microscopy
  • light-based (optical, fluorescence) microscopy
  • cathodoluminescence microscopy
Can be used to study any of various types of sample materials:
  • tissue microscopy
  • brain research
  • tissue sectioning
  • imaging
Competitive Advantages
  • is compatible with multiple microscopy systems
  • incorporates a feedback sensor to monitor and optimize cutting thickness/forces
  • can cut reproducible sections as thin as 25 nanometers
  • performs cutting off-axis to prevent contamination
  • mounts rapidly onto an existing SEM stage and does not require a custom vacuum chamber door
  • uses the full range of an existing SEM stage for positioning samples
  • incorporates a stage translation that is rectilinear
  • utilizes a pivot flexure bearing for frictionless rotation during cutting
  • cleans knife edge after each cut
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