Microscope making world waves

Top class technology made in Manawatu

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 28/11/2013
Bob Hodgson
DAVID UNWIN/Fairfax NZ

CLASSY ACT: Bob Hodgson led a team of engineering students in creating the Classifynder digital microscope.

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A digital microscope first scoffed at for being "unoriginal and unmarketable" is now making waves worldwide.

The 3-D desktop microscope, the Classifynder, was crafted in a Manawatu workshop.

Last night the invention was named the supreme winner of this year's New Zealand Engineering Excellence Awards, which showcase the country's leading-edge technology and engineering designs.

Developed by a team at Massey University, led by Emeritus Professor Bob Hodgson, the Classifynder combines robotics and image processing technology to locate and classify pollen collected on everyday items, like shoes and clothing.

It finds all of the pollen grains on a slide, takes a series of images of each grain at different focal lengths and uses this information for fast-tracked pollen classification.

As well as saving time spent at the eye piece of a microscope, the invention also has potential to classify borne diseases, such as facial eczema, potato blight, parasitic worm eggs and giardia.

Work first started on the microscope when Massey palynologist Emeritus Professor John Flenley, who studies the science of pollen, called for his help to create a computer application to ease the problem of pollen classification.

"We developed it originally to meet that need, because we saw it as a niche that was not filled, and - with the relatively small resources in New Zealand - it was something that we could actually make an impact in, which we have," Prof Hodgson said.

The Classifynder is now attracting international interest for its use in forensic crime scene investigations, studying ecosystems and authenticating honey, including countering honey fraud when other products are sold off as Kiwi products overseas.

It has even generated inquiries from the United States Homeland Security.

"We've gone from the ancient palynology, which was all about climate reconstruction, to some very exciting other sorts of applications," Prof Hodgson said.

"It's been a long haul and at times it's been a bit discouraging. At one stage when I was trying to raise some money I was told it wasn't original and there was no market for it . . . but overall it has been very satisfying."

The now viable commercial product is being pushed into international markets - with Wellington-based engineer Jamie MacDuff at the helm.

"Pollen scientists can spend weeks squinting down a microscope manually trying to count and identify the tiny grains," Mr MacDuff said.

"The Classifynder gives them the ability to sample more material and produce more consistent results over time, and leading pollen scientists consider it may well revolutionise the field of palynology," he said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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