Innovative instruments, often jerry-built from parts of other devices, are making a wide array of new projects possible
One look through something called a confocal microscope was all it took for William Sunderland to make a drastic change in his career plans. A math student with what appeared to be a bright future in computers, he peeked one day through the lens of a microscope invented in the lab where he worked. The dazzlingly detailed pictures of living cells convinced him to switch his major from mathematics and computer sciences to biology.

Confocal microscopes have been transforming the working lives of scientists like Sunderland ever since the devices began to appear in biology labs in the mid-1980s. And it's not just their pictures that are causing scientists to want their own. It's also the challenge of improving on the clunky first generation of confocal microscopes.

From the start, confocal microscopes...

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