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COST workshop on Emerging Technologies and Multimodal Imaging, part II: Round table discussions

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Topic: Science  |  Series: My Journey to PhD
Yes, that is a round-table discussion within a beer consumption. All the participants being really enthusiastic. :-)Alright, welcome at the second and simultaneously final part of the report on COST workshop, which took place in Vienna first week in February. I will save your time and simply skip any lengthy boring recapitulation by beginning where I stopped in the previous post. That is on Friday morning. (Jackson should get some inspiration here, as it is not polite to let the audience wait for the next part for a long time...)

Indeed, the beer-wine-cocktails discussion metamorphosed into a professional round-table debates only couple of hours later on Friday morning, I would say some of us nearly noticing the change of place. :-) Well, again a little bit of exaggeration, but truth is I myself did not feel super comfortable until the first cup of coffee. Luckily enough, the discussed topics were really interesting, so I was soon hooked up on absorbing new information.

The programme was based on creating four discussion groups. Each table-group did at first a short brainstorming on a selected topic (emerging technologies before lunch and multimodal imaging in the afternoon). Than all the points coming from the meditating were noted down and the brainstorming went on, this time each group having one extensive but well-defined subject to talk about. The final collective discussion somewhat crowned the opus, to paraphrase a classic here.

I was keeping myself busy with noting down kind of every second sentence, that was just said aloud. I heard in the room echoing so many good ideas, mass spectrometry imaging revealing some to-me-up-to-now secret corners. Truly very inspiring! I put together the key points from both parts of the brainstorming sessions.


Within this topic, mostly discussed points were imaging at (sub)cellular level, nanoparticles and nanosupports, and data processing and softwares.

The general agreement was that the main obstacles for a successful imaging at the spatial resolution smaller than the single cell size were i) matrix crystals size ii) diameter of the probe (laser, jet, primary ion beam) and iii) sensitivity. Another set of problems is represented by the quality and feasibility of the pre-analysis scanning at such a small scale and by the subsequent over-laying. We shortly touched the topic of matrix pre-coated  slides for more  homogeneous layer of matrix and smaller crystal size.

What regards the nanostructures, mostly discussed were NALDI – nanoparticles assisted laser desorption ionization and NIMS – Nanostructure‐Initiator Mass Spectrometry.

We agreed upon the size of the current  network is not a real problem. More serious is actually the speed of the up-loads. That becomes a real nightmare when the data has to be shared with a collaborator on-line or in a cloud. Someone suggested a possibility of data processing during its acquisition and the subsequent final processing of data of a limited size. However, that is not always possible, as for e.g. PCA you need the complete data collected to perform the data analysis.

A very important point here, which we came to later again, was a detailed experiment planning. When well thought over, it might be often possible to analyze only a selected region of the sample to get the answer on the scientific question. Imaging only of a portion of the total sample size would decrease the raw data amount thus enabling a faster processing.

A hot-topic seemed to be the creation of databases and libraries… I guess that will bring a lot of new in the near future.



For the afternoon session the main mantras were called “co-registration” of images and definition of what is “one sample”.

The first question was: is an adjacent tissue section the same sample? Well obviously not, but considering the thickness of such a section why not call it <the same> sample after all? The second question was: is an once analyzed sample used for another imaging modalities the same sample? … The influence of the analysis has to be always taken into account. The analyst has to always consider the invasiveness and destructiveness of the imaging modality employed. For example the vacuum needed for most of the applications of mass spectrometry imaging can be very harmful for the sample. Unfortunately enough, the less the method is destructive and more gentle (e.g. optical methods – microscopy), the less information it seems to give us. This point also brought up another hot-topic and that was the tissue degradation studies.

The debate over co-registration resulted in call for more sophisticated softwares and elicited discussion on what can actually be co-registered? That is mainly: Which imaging modalities are complementary? How to deal with co-registration of static x dynamic images, ex- x in-vivo modalities or different modalities at different spatial resolution causing a problem of scaling?

Once again the importance of good experiment planning was mentioned. The plans should ideally be carried out by more people, each of them being an expert in one of the fields applied. How can we combine different imaging modalities, when we know very well only one of them? This topic produced a fruitful debate on excellence centers, on need of better and more effective communication, organization and experience sharing. Because it seems to be the only way how we can achieve great things and reveal some more life mysteries. Without co-operation a scientific breakthrough can only be launched with huge difficulties.

On the other hand question of worries about sharing details from the planned projects was mentioned. On one side we want to discover and answer the questions together, science being for everyone. On the other side, the scientists are always evaluated only according to the number of publications etc. the research being considered successful only when it is a good source of high impact factor journals contribution. So everyone somehow tries to keep everything for oneself.

I am not sure if something will be changed here, but we should really not forget about communication and effectiveness of information sharing. I think that was also the main take-home message of the whole meeting. At least that is what I brought home effectively. :-)

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