Around two years ago, the seeds of collaboration were sown when OpenUC2 embarked on a mission to introduce open-source microscopes to the BioRTC (Biotechnology Research Center). The idea was grand, but the path forward was uncertain. The initial discussions paved the way for what would become a transformative journey.
The collaboration started modestly, with virtual meetings held over Zoom. The goal? To develop a grant proposal for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which was dedicated to establishing microscopy facilities in underserved regions of the world. This was more than just about providing equipment; it was about imparting knowledge and skills to local researchers and we felt very lucky to participate this journey!
As the world slowly emerged from the grip of the pandemic, OpenUC2 secured funding, and the vision began to crystallize. The concept of a joint summer school in collaboration with the BioRTC (Biology Research Transfer Center) 2023 at Yobe University in Nigeria took shape. The objective was clear: to construct two state-of-the-art light-sheet microscopes and provide UC2-based brightfield microscopes to all the participants. This mission was underpinned by a pressing need, as Nigeria had only a single confocal microscope.
The development process was a labor of love, combining our engineering experiences with the mission of making research-grade imaging accessible and sustainable. The outcome: a 4-axis fully motorized light-sheet microscope equipped with precision components, a 10x long working distance objective lens, a fiber-coupled 488 nm laser, a cylindrical lens, and a micrometer-precise XYZ stage.
As the day of departure approached, challenges loomed. News of potential conflict in Niger cast a shadow. With former student Michael’s positive words about the upcoming trip, we started our journey in Frankfurt – almost in time.
The workshop at Yobe University was full of highly motivated and passionated people. The schedule was really tight, but we had a mission: Teach everything about open microscopy. High-speed internet and a well-equipped biological laboratory paved the way for transformative learning experiences. Students, fueled by unmatched motivation, worked late into the night to assemble their microscopes and understand every little bit.
On the second day, our focus shifted towards transforming the microscope into a fluorescence powerhouse. Using fluorescent pen-dyed lens tissue as simple yet beautiful samples, we harnessed the power of simple color-filtered LEDs for excitation. Guided by the principles of Koehler illumination, students delved into techniques to enhance contrast and image quality.
Understanding the significance of hands-on guidance, we aimed to ensure that students weren’t left alone in their exploration. Recognizing that the true potential of UC2 unfolds when people tinker creatively, we provided a crash course in CAD design. With newfound skills, they crafted inserts and 3D printed them using the available Creality printer.
Next came the pivotal moment as our two light-sheet microscopes stood ready for action. We unraveled the mysteries of different imaging planes, enabling students to gradually grasp insights and techniques step by step. The water chamber became a focal point. As water and fluopen were combined to align the sheet, students meticulously noted each step. 40 individuals encircled the microscopes, eagerly absorbing every tiny detail of operation. This was mind blowing!
The journey of understanding progressed as we guided students through the fundamental steps of sample mounting. Our efforts were rewarded as we captured 3D stacks of lens tissue phantoms, showcasing the newfound expertise of the participants.
As the day drew to a close a crowning achievement awaited. Every individual not only tackled but also mastered the alignment of a Michelson interferometer.
A cherished gift awaited us, a token of appreciation from Mahmound Maina and his team. Alongside this beautiful gesture was an unforgettable accumulation of experiences that etched this journey deep into our memories.
Reflecting on the experience, a profound realization emerged: While European summer schools hold their charm, the potential lies in sharing knowledge where resources might be constrained, but enthusiasm to forge ahead knows no bounds. The entire expedition, from its outset to the culmination, exuded meticulous organization. A sense of direction pervaded every moment, erasing any inkling of feeling lost. As we move forward, the commitment to support Nigeria with cutting-edge open microscopy remains steadfast, a testament to the incredible impact that collaboration can achieve.
It was a great experience and we are looking forward to preserve this unique collaboration. Thank goes to all who ensured a very smooth workshop from the start to the end!