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Becoming a User

General rules at the MMU that apply to all users:

  • Only users that have submitted a scientific proposal to the MMU, and who are therefore in the database used for the online booking system, will be able to book and use the microscopes. The proposal needs to be submitted before beginning of microscopy work at the MMU. No proposal, no microscopy.
  • Each user has to submit his/her own proposal. No group proposals.
  • Each user is asked to work only on his/her own samples, not somebody else’s samples.
  • Microscope bookings will be done weekly and only through the MMU online booking system by each user him/herself.
  • Each user is required to work on and with the microscopes in a conscientious manner. User safety and instrument safety have highest priority at the MMU.

Submitting a Scientific Proposal to the MMU

Successful proposals are accepted for a period of 24 months, after which they may be renewed for another 24 months by expressing this in writing (email). Most unsuccessful proposals require review by the user and resubmission. Only very few proposals are rejected, mostly due to incompleteness, or the suggested experiments and analyses are technically not feasible with MMU instruments.

The reasons why the MMU requires a scientific proposal from each user are:

  • It is very helpful if we know what type of sample a user will be working on when using the instruments at the MMU. Only when we know what type of analysis a user is interested in, can we advise, assist and train. Any novice user, or user with only basic microscopy knowledge, who is not wanting, or not able to provide us with that information will invariably delay progress on his/her own research project, experience mostly unsuccessful analysis times on the microscopes, and most likely unusable results. Therefore, the more details a user can provide in his/her proposal, the higher the success rate and the better the results. Proprietary work can be brought to the MMU. As employees of the University of the Witwatersrand we are bound by the university’s intellectual property policies.
  • We need to report annually how many users we serve and support, and thus we need to have a database where all users and their projects can be viewed. No information will be shared with anyone that has no need to know.
  • The little personal information (full name, email address, telephone number) we collect with the scientific proposal are kept in accordance with the data management policies of the university. The collected data is purely used for the user profile and his/her access to the MMU and the online booking system. Full names are required to register each user with the university’s ICAM security system, granting access to the MMU laboratories. A valid email is required for obtaining access to the MMU online booking system. Contact details are further used to email notifications to the user regarding his/her microscopy sessions (cancellations, instrument availabilities). Phone numbers are exclusively used for emergencies.

There is a set form for the scientific proposal, please MMUProposalForm3.pdf.

  1. Please keep your proposal to the form provided.
  2. Fill in all the required information on your computer; please no handwritten proposals
  3. Do not just cut and paste from grant proposals, publications or reports. Instead, try to address each of the provided sections in the proposal form concisely as it relates to your proposed work at the MMU. Please make sure you address the following:
    • Scientific merit: Give a brief discussion of the scientific motivation at a level that can be understood by a reviewer who is a scientist but maybe not a specialist in your specific field.
    • Technical feasibility: Provide enough detail of your experiment to judge the likelihood of success, including your proposed sample preparation (not necessarily your synthesis route), and microscopy techniques that you would like to employ.
  4. Page 5: print, sign, date and scan page 5.
  5. Email the complete proposal to us.

Training of users at the MMU

The MMU has basic as well as advanced characterization instruments and microscopes. Training will exclusively be performed on the basic instruments. Only after successful completion of the basic training may a user move on to the more advanced instruments and techniques. Please do not expect to obtain unique and readily publishable results within one session on the instrument. There is no “easy” button on complex, state-of-the-art scientific instruments. 

There are three distinct user status levels:

  1. User-in-training  (specific microscope sessions are reserved for training novice users)
  2. Day-time user  (access Mo-Fr,  8am-5pm, fixed session times on all microscopes due to high demand by too many users)
  3. After-hours user  (access 24/7, however Mo-Fr,  8am-5pm, fixed session times due to high demand, but unlimited access after-hours, weekends and holidays)

A novice user (user-in-training) can generally be trained within 3 microscopy sessions to perform the basic operating tasks (sample insertion/mounting, basic alignment, adjusting basic parameters, basic imaging). Prior experience with microscopy instruments may shorten this training time considerably. Following basic training each user must take a “driving test” on the instrument to become a qualified day-time user. MMU staff members need to attest at least once that the user is capable of performing the basic tasks, is conscientious, and that he/she will not damage the instrument. Experience comes with time spent on the instruments. An experienced microscope user that has gained experience elsewhere, but is new to the MMU, still needs to show MMU staff members that he/she can operate the instrument of choice properly. Such user can take the driving test on his/her first microscope session.

Day-time users can access the microscopes during regular business hours (Mo-Fr, 8am-5pm), excluding holidays. They do not require constant assistance and can therefore perform their own experiments within their competence and experience. For difficult situations MMU staff members will readily assist.

After-hours users are required to demonstrate how to deal with situations that may show up at the beginning of a microscope session, or happen at any time during a session. For example, the previous user may unintentionally have left the microscope in a severely misaligned condition, or may have used the instrument in an operating mode that required different alignments and settings, or the vacuum may have crashed accidentally. After-hours no MMU staff member will be around, able to assist.

Any change in user status, based on regular observation of user competence is solely at the discretion of MMU staff responsible for instrumentation. Different levels of access apply based on demonstration of competence. Some instruments might require a separate driving test for each instrument subcomponent/technique (such as different holders/stages, EDS, EELS, EFTEM, Tomography, Cryo-EM, etc.).

Booking Procedures

The MMU has an online booking system. Please note that the booking system does not work (for now) on Internet Explorer on any computer. Please use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead. If you find yourself with a blank screen or somehow missing features, just change browser or update your browser.

  • Once a user has submitted a scientific proposal that has been accepted his/her MMU profile will be created. Following that the user will receive a welcome email and an activation link. Please note, that activation link expires after 48 hours. This link allows the user to access the booking system for the first time and he/she will be asked to set a password required to access the online booking system thereafter. Once set, a user will have access to the booking system at any time to place his/her booking(s).
  • Strict rule for all users:   one ‘day-time’ micrscope session per week, per microscope. Day-time micrscope sessions are in high demand and therefore every user deserves a fair chance at booking a day-time session.
  • After-hours users can book unlimited after-hours, weekend and holiday microscope sessions.- Booking will be weekly and only online. No bookings via email, phone or in person.
  • Microsopcope bookings can be made only in a specific booking time window: Monday 12noon - Thursday 12noon for the following week. - Due to the online nature of the booking system, booking microscope sessions can go very quick:  first clicked, first booked.
  • After the booking time window closes for bookings, users can only cancel their booking but not make a new booking. - Outside that booking time window any changes can only be made through MMU staff members. During that time you will need to tell us to shift or exchange your session with another user within that week (email is best to contact us).
  • The booking system displays four different colour-coded areas:  red, green, blue, and orange.
    • Red = training sessions for new users, and users in-training.
    • Green = day-time users that have passed the driving test and are on the user list for that particular microscope.
    • Blue and Orange = after-hours users only.
  • Users-in-training can only book training sessions. All other sessions will be inaccessible.
  • Day-time users will be able to book the green coded sessions, but no training sessions anymore.
  • After-hours users can book day-time sessions (green), as well as after-hours sessions (blue and orange) but no training sessions. Please book your day-time sessions first before moving on to booking your after-hours session(s). Contact us to book your after-hours sessions.

Please remember, that all user permissions on the microscopes are determined by MMU staff members.  


All instruments at the MMU are free of charge for staff and students of the University of the Witwatersrand as long as the user is willing to receive training and begins operating the microscope of choice by him/herself after a period of training. MMU staff members will not do the microscopy work for users. It is part of our mission to transfer operational knowledge to each user such that he/she knows and understands what is involved in microscopy work. Moreover, each user know his/her sample best.

Users are charged for the consumables they use.