A move toward mercury-free microscopy at HMS

2 min read

The Nikon Imaging Center at Harvard Medical School is the largest light microscopy facility on the Longwood campus. The staff are busy transitioning the light source for 12 of their 13 microscopes to more efficient solid-state light engines, replacing older metal halide bulbs that contain mercury.

For Jennifer Waters, the center’s director, the move was primarily motivated by a desire to improve the quality of research data rather than the energy or cost savings the lab would realize. The new light engines provide several positive benefits for Harvard-based researchers that result in higher quality images. Because the intensity of the light stream doesn’t degrade over time they provide a more stable light source for collecting data.

The older metal halide bulbs were unstable, with a tendency to flicker over time impacting the intensity of light and therefore making it difficult for researchers’ to compare quality of light in images of samples collected over a period of time. The halide bulbs were much more energy intensive, requiring a power surge to turn on and cool-down phase in between uses.

In transitioning to mercury-free microscopy, Waters is showing that her team can effectively reduce their department’s impact on the environment, while also saving money and improving the quality of data provided to researchers. “I hope we will inspire others using microscopy to consider this more efficient fluorescence illumination option not only for the positive sustainability benefit but also because it leads to better data,” said Waters.