Can an Air Table Improve Your Microscope’s Resolution?

By AZO Network December 2, 2023

The pursuit of enhanced microscopy resolution often leads to the consideration of specialized equipment. Known for their vibration isolation capabilities, air tables are touted as essential for high-precision microscopy. However, recent findings suggest that their necessity and effectiveness might not be as straightforward as previously assumed. ¹ 

This article delves into the impact that a microscope air table has on microscope resolution, while examining their role and exploring alternatives for optimal imaging performance.

Air Tables: A Double-Edged Sword?

Air tables, or anti-vibration tables, are designed to mitigate vibrations that can blur microscopic images. Although they are effective in isolating vertical and horizontal vibrations, their utility in certain microscopy setups is under debate. 

A study published in Microscopy Today showed that a microscope air table may not always be necessary for vibration isolation in electrophysiological equipment and microscopes. In fact, they can sometimes be a liability by picking up airborne vibrations, particularly in setups with solid enclosures like Faraday cages that are used in vision research. Kinetic Systems’ Faraday Cages are integrated with the workstation frame so airborne vibrations are not transmitted to the isolated work surface. 

This surprising revelation points to the nuanced nature of vibration isolation in microscopy. Alongside this, it shows the need to evaluate the specific requirements of each setup. ¹

Alternatives to Air Tables

Given the potential limitations of air tables, researchers have sought alternative solutions. A promising approach is the use of damping tables made from materials like stainless steel. These can reduce resonances effectively. However, these too have limitations in overcoming sound-related disturbances.

The optimal placement of the microscope setup is a key factor in achieving high-quality imaging. ¹ For example, it could be a stable slab in a basement away from heavy vibrations that emerge from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

The Unparalleled Benefits of Air Tables in Certain Microscopy Settings

Despite the aforementioned limitations, it is crucial to acknowledge the scenarios where air tables prove to be indispensable in microscopy. In settings where vibrations are predominantly airborne, a microscope air table offers unparalleled benefits. Their design, featuring a working surface supported by a cushion of air, excels in isolating the microscope’s optical system from vibrations that are otherwise difficult to dampen.

When dealing with high-resolution imaging, where even the slightest vibration can distort the image, the role of air tables becomes irreplaceable. For instance, in electron microscopy and other applications requiring extreme precision, the isolation provided by air tables is essential to resolve fine specimen detail. These settings often involve delicate samples or require long exposure times, where any vibration can result in significant image degradation.

Furthermore, the adaptability of air tables to various laboratory environments adds to their appeal. With features like tapped holes for the easy integration of additional equipment, these tables offer a flexible solution that cater to the diverse needs of modern microscopy labs. They not only enhance image resolution and clarity, but also contribute to a more ergonomic and efficient workspace.

In summary, while it is important to consider the specific requirements and constraints of each microscopy setup, the value of a microscope air table in providing superior vibration isolation in certain scenarios cannot be overstated. Although other factors are important to consider, such as aperture wavelength and resolution, microscope air tables remain a cornerstone in the quest for achieving the highest resolution and clarity in microscopic imaging.

Does an Air Table Improve a Microscope’s Resolution? 

As we, from Kinetic Systems, reflect on the role of a microscope air table for enhancing microscope resolution, it becomes clear that the answer is not black and white. Air tables can provide significant vibration isolation for the greatest resolving power, but their effectiveness can vary. This could be in relation to the specific experimental setup, environmental factors and the microscope’s numerical aperture. 

For scientists seeking the utmost precision in their microscopic studies, exploring a combination of vibration isolation strategies, including the judicious use of air tables, damping tables, and strategic placement, is advisable. 

Other factors that could change a microscope’s imaging properties, such as the wavelength of light, must also be considered. Shorter wavelengths yield higher resolution. So keep an eye on your imaging wavelength, as well as its airy disk. A diffraction pattern could lower the quality of your microscope’s images.

To learn more about state-of-the-art vibration control solutions, we invite you to look at Kinetic Systems’ Active Air Vibration Control Platforms, where cutting-edge technology meets scientific rigor.

References & Further Reading

  1. Moss A. Air Tables Are Not Always Needed for Vibration Isolation. Microscopy Today. 2018;7(4): Page 27. doi:10.1017/S1551929500064300


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