Newsflash - Trakscan Plus for Apatite Fission Track Analysis
Written by Michael Krochmal   
Friday, 15 August 2014 00:00


Autoscan is happy to announce the launch of Trakscan Plus,
the automated fission track counting system for apatite fission track dating analysis,
a technique in geological thermochronology.

At the same time, we are releasing Version 2.10.0 of our acclaimed Fission Track Studio software suite.

Fission track dating (FTD) is an important technique in geological thermochronology. Our company, Autoscan Systems Pty. Ltd., has a long and proud history of supporting this discipline with its unique equipment since 1979. By attending almost every single FTD conference around the world since 1986, we have been able to keep close tabs on the needs of the community. With a successful professional multi-disciplinary engineering career dating back 40 years, and with 28 years of involvement with FTD our Managing Director, Michael Krochmal, has been able to translate these requirements into the capability of the equipment we supply. This has allowed us to achieve sales in 28 countries, as of August 2014.
For some decades the software which drives our system, TrakscanTM, was able to meet these needs extremely well. It was eventually replaced by a new software suite (Fission Track Studio) - see below. In honour of Trakscan, and on the occasion of the upcoming thermochronology conference THERMOCHRONO 2014, we have now renamed the overall systems which we offer for this discipline. These systems will now be known as TRAKSCAN PLUSTM.
System Components
The systems currently consist of one of two models of Carl Zeiss AxioImagerTM microscopes (either the Z2m or the M2m model), a high-precision XY positioning stage, a digital camera, a high-end computer, and the software which was jointly developed between our company and the FTD team at the School of Earth Sciences of the University of Melbourne (and which is jointly owned). The initial development work took place between 2003 and 2006, and resulted in a marketable product which we have been improving continually and significantly since then.
The software consists of two modules, TrackWorks and FastTracks, which together are known as Fission Track Studio. This software is now being released in Version 2.10.0, with a free upgrade to all of our existing automatic fission track counting installations. This upgrade will proceed automatically when the previous version of the software is run, provided that the lab PC is connected to the Internet. For clients who have a problem with connecting to the Internet, we offer a number of alternative solutions. Please refer to a separate Newsflash (“Latest version of Fission Track Studio now available”) for details.
The respective features of the two software suite components are as follows :
1. TrackWorks
This module makes use of the supplied hardware (microscope, stage, computer and camera - see "System Components", above) to capture and store relevant high-quality 3D image stacks for later analysis.
TrackWorks includes facilities for detecting candidate grains, counting apatite fission tracks, and measuring the lengths of fully confined tracks in apatite (however, automatic analysis is best carried out in the other module, FastTracks).
The quality of these images is such that, even if destructive analytical techniques are employed, it is always possible to go back to the pre-destruction grain areas for later validation if necessary. This is a very important development, and a historical first, even though there have been many attempts at automated counting of apatite fission tracks in the past. This image archiving feature, in concert with our automated track counting facility, has achieved a unique position for our systems in the discipline of FTD.
An extremely useful feature of TrackWorks is its ability to automatically detect good candidate grains, and to discriminate between these and features such as unsuitable apatite grains, zircon crystals, voids and other minerals (such as quartz etc.) Good candidate apatite crystals should have a horizontal C-axis, and have a thickness greater than a certain value. This feature alone saves significant amounts of operator time.
Another impressive feature of both modules is their ability to automatically detect the C-axes of good candidate crystals, as well as automatically measuring DParTM parameters.
The software also generates coordinate data for the locations of candidate grains in such a way that they can be directly transferred to a laser ablation / ICP MS setup. Analysis in an La-ICP MS device facilitates the direct and quick determination of uranium content (and other useful information) without the complications and time delays inherent in the traditional EDM (External Detector Method) technique.
However, TrackWorks is equally effective for the EDM and La-ICP MS techniques.
It is also possible to apply this system to the study of other minerals, such as zircon.
In fact, we have been exploring other, quite different applications as well. These will use the powerful software "engine" within our programs to carry out analysis work in disciplines unrelated to fission track dating.
2. FastTracks
This module allows users to carry out the analysis and data generation processes remotely, on any registered computer.
The program is independent of the hardware listed above for TrackWorks, and can function on both MS WindowsTM and Apple MacTM platforms.FastTracks uses the data and image files generated by TrackWorks to carry out the analysis.
A unique and patented process in our software determines whether a given feature is a track or an artefact.This process allows automatic counting at track densities which are about an order of magnitude higher than the practical limit for manual counting techniques.It also allows for the unattended automatic counting of huge numbers of tracks, especially when using the multiple slide facility. Such numbers of tracks would be almost impossible to count manually.Of course, it is still possible to carry out the counting manually, by clicking tracks onscreen with the mouse.
Other impressive features of our software are the capability to automatically detect the C-axes of good candidate crystals, as well as automatically measuring DParTM parameters. (Good candidate crystals should have a horizontal C-axis).
The large volume of data generated by our software vastly improves the relevant statistics, thus greatly improving the accuracy of the age estimates and thermal history reconstructions.Since the data can be exported in various forms, it is a simple matter for the user to set up a spreadsheet to execute the Age calculations.The data can also be directly imported into third party thermochronology programs available to fission trackers, such as TrackKeyTM, HeFTyTM, QtqtTM, and RadialPlotterTM. Such programs typically carry out the calculations necessary to determine ages, but also calculate and graphically present the results of the much more complicated thermal history modeling calculations.
We originally contemplated making our systems available in association with other microscopes, as we did for the much simpler systems we supplied with Trakscan in the past. Unfortunately, the thermal expansion of the microscope bodies over time precludes the use of most microscopes other than the Carl Zeiss AxioImagers (which we currently recommend and supply).The result of thermal expansion is a degradation of the captured images to the point where the automated counting process is disabled. Our website will be amended as soon as possible to reflect our current recommendation for microscopes. Please accept our apologies for the fact that some out-of-date information remains on our website at this time. We are currently exploring alternatives microscope brands and models.
The technology of cameras is constantly improving at a fantastic rate. We do try to keep up with this by supplying the best possible cameras for the job with our systems.Of course, there are some delays involved, since for each new camera, we need to carry out intensive and extensive testing to ensure that they will work properly.We also need to modify our software commands accordingly.This can be a complicated and time-consuming job. Again, we recommend only the most advanced cameras available for the task.
Comments from users
“The system is robust”
“The microscope is fantastic”
“The new magnetic slide holders are great to use”
“I don’t know why more people don’t use ICP MS - there is such a wealth of additional data you can glean from this method"
(Webmaster's comment : of course, for many users, EDM is still the most appropriate technique to use, for other reasons).
Please contact us for the latest features and prices.
We also welcome and value any feedback from users.
Kind regards,
The Crew at Autoscan

Contact Details

Autoscan Systems Pty. Ltd.
Street Address : 4/293 Bay Street, Brighton 3186 Victoria Australia
Postal Address : PO Box 112, Ormond 3204 Victoria Australia
Telephone : +61 3 9596 8065 / +61 3 9596 8092
Fax : +61 3 9596 8369
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Webmaster : Michael Krochmal
This site established 23 October 2007
Supersedes website established 1995