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Compact flashlamp-based fluorescence imager for use under ambient-light conditions.
A low-power, lightweight, multiwavelength fluorescence imager based on the use of a compact xenon flashlamp, bandpass filters, gated charge-coupled device camera, and digital image processing was developed for use on an autonomous rover vehicle. The imager discriminates against ambient light by use of microsecond excitation pulses along with synchronized camera operation to limit the time period in which ambient-light photocounts are accumulated, and digital image subtraction to remove background counts. In a 10 cm square field of view, weak fluorescence, equivalent to 0.05 pmol fluorescein/mm(2), can be quantified against a white-light background equivalent to shaded sunlight. For application in autonomous search for organisms in extreme environments such as in situ desert rock or soil, the instrument was equipped with a set of fluorescence excitation filters (380, 450, 545, and 600 nm) and emission filters (460, 510, 620, and 740 nm) suitable for detection of chlorophyll, applied stains for protein, DNA, lipid and carbohydrate, and autofluorescence. True-color images were obtained through red-green-blue imaging filters (630, 535, and 470 nm) used with white-light flashes. Automated focusing on ground features was based on the R-band image and was carried out prior to fluorescence image acquisition.