In which the old girl rides again

Second-Hand Confocal

As you can see, my young apprentice, your experiments have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational second-hand confocal microscope!

My love-affair with second-hand lab equipment continues unabated.

Some time ago, our department scored a good deal on an old Leica SP2 microscope that another department was getting rid of. Mothballed it remained until my lab moved in with its heavy imaging modus operandi, and we were asked to get it up and running as a communal asset. One of my PhD students, Harry, rather likes messing around with equipment or anything technical, and seeing as how he was having to commute to another institute to do the microscopy on which his work is heavily reliant, it seemed like a good idea to rise to the challenge.

Harry is also the sort of person who has a natural way with engineers and tradesmen, and over the years has developed a great relationship with the various people who would be crucial for getting the machine up and running.

It turned out not to be as straightforward as we might have hoped. This machine is, in modern lab terms, ancient. On unpacking, the scope guys discovered that some of the pieces were missing – pieces that Leica no longer manufacture. To compress the months-long saga into one sentence, after scrounging old parts and fabricating one new one, and even calling a Leica engineer out of retirement to cobble together a new service dongle, we had gone as far as we could go. This required financial investment – and all without knowing whether it would actually function, as some parts couldn’t be tested until the thing was properly switched on.

Dear Reader, there was a happy ending: it works. For how long, we don’t know – but we’re just going to ride that wave ’til it crashes.

In the meantime, she needs a name. And no, we’re not going to call her Scopie McScopeface.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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7 Responses to In which the old girl rides again

  1. Frank Norman says:

    The Old Folk(l) ?

  2. Argh! Diabolically awful.

  3. Dominic says:

    What about Laika – after the space dog & as it sounds like Leica…?!

    I reccommend the Instructables website for making the best out of old equipment & recycling/upcycling. Also, sometimes a 3-D printed part can be made to replace a broken part… on that website people do that a lot. Someone in UCL must have 3-D printers?

  4. Mark Field says:

    In the 70s,80s,90s there was an IBM mainframe computer in Cambridge called Phoenix, and a common joke at the time was that it was called that because it “… rose form the crashes”.

    The name seems somewhat appropriate here, though I think I prefer Dominic’s suggestion of Laika.

    The usual trick with old equipment is to acquire a second non-working unit from which to scavenge parts. Since it doesn’t work the owners are usually happy to part with it, especially if they know it is going to a good cause. Your Leica contact will almost certainly know where other units are located, its worth a quick chat over coffee.

  5. Yup, Mark, Dominic – that’s exactly how we fixed the old girl in the first place. We only resorted to fabrication when eBay and others’ mothballed machines drew a blank. The lost dongle problem was the hardest nut to crack. This is why I worry about longevity – retired engineers might not be available indefinitely…

  6. steve says:

    We have a 16 year old SP2 in our Department that I think still works, though most folk have long since moved on to the newer fancy kit in our microscopy suite. We may well have a few functioning spare parts, so if you’re short of anything specific let me know and I’ll see if we can help.

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