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Quorum Technologies launches new generation of electron microscopy coaters

Quorum Technologies, the market leader in coating and cryo-prep solutions for electron microscopy (EM), is set to launch its latest product range in August. The Q Plus Series is comprised of a range of versatile coaters that provide sputtering and carbon evaporation, with the ability to deliver both in a single combined system. The flagship Q150V Plus offers users the ability to coat samples at pressures in the 10-6 mbar range. The Q150V Plus will make its debut at the Microscopy & Microanalysis (M&M) 2018 show, in Baltimore.

The Q Plus updates the highly successful Q Series, used by thousands of EM laboratories around the world. The range now includes the high-performance Q150V Plus, due to

its enhanced vacuum capabilities it can produce ultra-fine carbon coated TEM films of the highest quality.  

Like its predecessors, the new Q Plus series has been developed to provide a common platform with versatility in mind. The new case design provides clear visibility of the smart touchscreen interface, and easy access for changing coating inserts and sample stages. It also provides a multi-colour LED visual status indication of process stages and audible notification at the end of the process.    

All models offer intuitive controls and extensive menu options, which allow users to create and store their own unique coating recipes, adjust material types and system functions, and access historical coating log files via the new USB port.

The Q150V Plus joins the Q150R Plus, a rotary-pumped system suitable for sputter and carbon coating for tungsten electron microscope (W-SEM) applications, and the Q150T Plus, a turbomolecular-pumped carbon and metal evaporation coater for SEM, TEM and thin film applications.

For larger samples, the Q300 Plus Series coaters are available for coating samples up to 200mm in diameter. Both models are suitable for the treatment of smaller samples through single-target selection and can also be fitted with an optional film thickness monitor.

Tony Larkin (Quorum’s  Managing Director) said: “The new Q Plus Series of coaters is designed to meet the demands of modern electron microscopy while remaining easy and intuitive to use. With the introduction of the Q150V Plus we can now offer users exceptional super fine coating to improve their imaging results.  

“The common platform makes it simple for users to move from one model to another and understand its operation, while the ability to store multi-user unique recipes enables more than one person to share a single device without having to change the settings.

“With a wide variety of drop-in specimen stages and extensive options including glow discharge and film thickness monitoring, the Q Plus Series offers unrivalled versatility to electron microscopy laboratories.”

Visit Quorum Technologies at the EMS booth (616) at Microscopy & Microanalysis (M&M) 2018 between the 5-9 August 2018. 

Quorum technology helps characterise a 200 million years old ichthyosaur in the BBC documentary - Attenborough and the Sea Dragon

The University of Bristol prepared samples of fossilised skin for SEM imaging as part of the characterisation of a sea dragon skeleton aged more than 200 million years, which was featured in the BBC documentary, Attenborough and the Sea Dragon.

David Attenborough has been fascinated by fossils since he was a boy. It was not therefore surprising to find him down on the Dorset coast of England to film the latest discovery of fellow experienced fossil collector, Chris Moore. The full story is told in a wonderful BBC documentary called Attenborough and the Sea Dragon

The seas in Jurassic times, around 200 million years ago were ruled by large dolphin-like creatures called ichthyosaurs. Not unique in terms of being found as fossils, the recent discovery in the limestone cliffs west of the village of Lyme Regis turned into a very special find. The story began with the careful removal of the skeleton embedded in the rocks. Back in Moore’s laboratory, it was very carefully cleaned with all rock removed to reveal the bones of the ichthyosaur. However, it was not fully characterised. The final shape and size of the creature, known also as a sea dragon, had to be predicted from various scientific analyses. The skeleton was quite large in terms of 3-4 metres (in multiple pieces). Initial studies were made using computerised tomography at the University of Southampton and the National Veterinary College. The data was analysed at the University of Bristol from which it was possible to construct a complete ichthyosaur. Further work on the bones revealed more details of the life and death of this skeleton.  

One very interesting aspect of the characterisation process was made after further removal of rock debris around individual bones of the skeleton. Samples of skin were carefully scraped away and were analysed at the University of Bristol in the Schools of Earth and Biological Sciences. Researcher Fiann Smithwick takes up the story. “Once we had the skin separated, we wanted to image it using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to find out about the sub-micron features and try to identify components such as pigments as these would indicate how light or dark the skin of the ichthyosaur was 200 million years ago. 

However, before we could image the specimen, we had to make it conductive. Fossil samples are normally insulators and are hard to image in an SEM without coating due to a build-up of charge on the surface, which distorts the images. To prevent this, a thin, uniform gold coating was applied to dozens of samples (Quorum Q150R ES rotary pumped sputter coater). We were then able to identify 0.5 micrometre structures called melanosomes.

These are organelles found in animal cells and are the site for synthesis, storage and transport of melanin, the most common light-absorbing pigment found in the animal kingdom. By looking at samples taken from the top and bottom of the ichthyosaur,we could see that it had lots of pigment on the top, but very little on the underside, suggesting that it had a dark back and light belly.

This is a colour pattern called countershading seen today in animals like sharks and dolphins but the first time it has been reported for an ichthyosaur. Countershading is thought to act as camouflage in living animals but may also provide protection against UV light and to help regulate body temperature.” This contrast is well shown here in this cgi reconstruction of the ichthyosaur.

As the final reconstruction of a 3D image of the ichthyosaur was completed, it became clear this particular specimen was a previously unknown species having larger front paddles than others. Overall, the “new” ichthyosaur would have measured nearly 4½ metres. This shows the reconstructed image of the ichthyosaur’s head.1

It is amazing how much can be discovered from a single fossil. Digital reconstruction has enabled the research team at Bristol to build an image of this animal to see it looked and moved 200 million years ago. The SEM imaging revealed countershading for the first time. Science has added to the story to characterise the life of an ichthyosaur, filling a further gap in the palaeontology jigsaw. As Dr Attenborough says, “Fossils give you an extraordinary vivid insight into what the world looked like millions of years before human beings even appeared on this planet.”