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Mercury free microscopy

Mercury free microscopy

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Mercury hazardous

Mercury is a toxin that attacks the central nervous system when ingested or inhaled. Mercury evaporates very slowly. If it is spilled or stored improperly, mercury evaporation can cause continual contamination of the air. Mercury also readily seeps into lakes and waterways. Mercury is toxic even in very small amounts. It only takes 3 grams (1/25 of a teaspoon) of mercury to contaminate a 60-acre lake. A typical mercury thermometer alone contains about 2 grams or mercury. It builds up in the tissue of fish and animals that we eat, which contaminates the food chain and puts humans at risk.


To put the mercury levels in lighting in perspective, household compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) operate at ∼5000 h/mg mercury, whereas microscope fluorescent mercury bulbs operate as few as 2.5 h/mg mercury. This effectively means that the amount of mercury contained in one mercury bulb is equivalent to the amount contained in ∼2000 CFL bulbs. The environmental impact of removing just one single mercury-based light source from a microscope is indeed surprising.


It is important to minimize mercury releases from all sources to prevent pollution. Local and state governments are currently working with businesses to develop collection systems for mercury. There are several things you can do to prevent mercury pollution:

  • Educate yourself as to which products contain mercury.

  • Avoid buying products containing mercury when alternatives are available.

  • Perform an inventory of mercury-containing items in your household.

  • Recycle products that contain mercury.


Using mercury-free lighting, Lumencor light engines provide smarter alternatives to any lamp

The mercury arc lamp has long been used as a light source for fluorescence microscopy. Metal halide doped mercury arc lamps have become widely employed because they address the reliability concerns around traditional mercury bulbs, increasing bulb longevity ten times. However the cost of a metal halide bulb is typically about five times that of a mercury bulb of equivalent radiant power, offsetting much of the potential savings in bulb replacement costs. Solid-state technologies like LED illumination have the potential to solve all the concerns associated with the use of mercury, but LEDs alone have yet to achieve the brightness needed for microscopy. Thus, the use of mercury lamps has remained a necessary and wide-spread source of mercury in research laboratories for decades. Lumencor has overcome the frustration associated with this dependence on mercury and has revolutionized the solid-state technology world by manufacturing LED Light Engines capable of replicating and exceeding the spectral properties of the mercury arc lamp. In so doing, Lumencor has obviated the toxic disadvantages previously associated with microscopy. Light Engines allow scientists to utilize high-performance, solid-state, sustainable lighting solutions in clean, safe laboratories using mercury free microscopes.


Only the light engine is MERCURY free. Calculations demonstrate that a single light engine can replace 10-67 mercury containing bulbs. The table below illustrates the amount of mercury contained within these sources. The mercury is the equivalent of 9762 CFL bulbs and the metal halide lamp is the equivalent of 1242 CFL bulbs. By comparison the light engine eliminates nearly all potential mercury hazards associated with the use of illumination in scientific equipment while providing the superior performance that has come to be expected from solid-state sources.

Pilot mercury free microscopy program in Havard Medical School ( and also refers to published paper on “Mercury Free Microscopy” )

The Harvard Medical School Imaging Center’s team implemented a six-month pilot program to ensure that the quality of light would meet the demands and expectations of researchers. A Life Cycle Analysis conducted by Harvard’s Green Building Services showed that the cost savings that would result from not having to replace the light source as often were far higher than the expected energy savings. In all, the costs for replacement, operation and disposal were cut in half. After collecting information on the new light source and quality of research data, Dr. Waters and her team ultimately decided to expand the new light source to the majority of their microscopes. Funding for the project was provided by the Tools and Technology Program at the Harvard Medical School.


In transitioning to Mercury Free Microscopy, Dr. 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.


In addition to eliminating bulb replacement costs, solid state light engines provide further operating economies in terms of electrical power consumption. Mercury arc and metal halide lamps typically require 30 minutes stabilization after ignition as well as a 30 minute cool-down period before restarting. For example, a common long-term imaging experiment conducted at the Center would require the acquisition of 50 images (at multiple stage positions) every 30 minutes for 48 hours, with a 100ms camera exposure time. While a mercury light source would need to burn the full 48 hours, light engines can be set up to turn on only when the camera is acquiring an image – a total of 8 minutes for the full experiment. Consequently, it is standard practice to leave the lamp running for the full duration of the imaging session, even though the light output is actually being used to acquire image data for only a small fraction of that time. Because the solid-state light engines can be turned on and off in an instant they will last much longer, dramatically reducing the Center’s replacement and disposal costs. Electronic light output control allows users to take advantage of this capacity to its fullest extent.