The optics laboratory was established in 1999 to ease the Institute’s Průhonice departments access to modern monitoring and analytical techniques in the area of microscopy. This workplace provides a broad range of electron and light microscopy monitoring methods, including fluorescence, Nomarski’s differential interference contrast, and phase or relief contrast. An image from microscopes or binocular magnifying glass is digitalized and then altered or analyzed; many methods, e.g., measuring, highlighting the sought-after structures in the images (e.g., chomosomes in cells, spores, mycorrhizal shapes), can be used. The laboratory also marginally deals with scanning and macrophotography (e.g., for digitalizing herbaria samples). In 2004 the laboratory expanded its activities to include scanning electron microscopy.
A Quanta 200 scanning electron microscope from the American-Dutch firm FEI enables us to observe and scan topographic samples in detail unattainable when magnified with light optics (resolution: up to 3.5 nm, magnification scale: maximum 50 000x for natural specimens with no coating). The laboratory especially specializes in visualizing, identifying or analyzing microstructures of the surfaces of biological substances (e.g., surface of leaves, seeds, roots of higher plants, fungal or lichen mycelia and spores or conidia), usually in their natural form, with no coating or other preparation. In addition to the standard high and low vacuum modes, the electron microscope can also provide ESEM technology (Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy) that enables researching non-conductive biological samples without coatings (water vapor saturated environment with pressure up to 2600Pa, cooling up to –20°C). With suitable sample cooling, even very fine and relatively easily damaged structures such as some lichen species or petals of vascular plants can be seen. The Institute of Botany is one of the first institutes in the Czech Republic to use ESEM in biological material research. Just as with the light microscopy images, ESEM images are also saved in digital form to enable further software editing and analyses.