Having spent many mornings attempting to blog while waiting for Zyrtec to kick in can, this Medgadget editor is excited to know that someone is taking pollen prediction seriously. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT) and Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM) developed mobile analyzers that can help accurately predict the pollen forecast.
The innovative feature is the analysis method: The stations determine the pollen composition fully automatically and transmit the data to the weather service. “To do this the stations, which are housed in a large container, ingest a controlled amount of air.
The pollen grains contained in this air are cleansed of any impurities and deposited on a carrier,” says Prof. Dr. Thomas Berlage, director of Life Science Informatics at FIT. The object carrier, a thin sheet of glass, is covered with a layer of gel. The pollen grains sink into this gel.
A light-optical microscope automatically takes pictures of the pollen. However, there is a difficulty: In these two-dimensional images, the primarily spherical pollen grains — regardless whether they come from birch, hazel or alder trees — are only displayed as circles. When viewed in three dimensions, however, the different types of pollen exhibit differences such as furrows.
“To overcome this difficulty, the microscope examines 70 different layers by automatically readjusting the focus 70 times,” explains Berlage.
In some views the highest point of a pollen is in focus, in others the center. For each level, the system calculates the points that are most clearly pictured. It then combines all these points to form a two-dimensional image that contains the three-dimensional information – the image shows the “flattened” top half of the pollen. If a pollen grain has a furrow at this point, it can be seen on the image. From this information, the system calculates certain mathematical features, compares these with a database, and determines the type of pollen. The results are available within one or two hours and are transmitted to the weather service via a network connection.
Press release: Automatic measuring stations for pollen