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Unusual job keeps Lake Placid man focused

LAKE PLACID - It's not exactly California's Silicon Valley, Manhattan, Seattle or Dallas, but tucked away on a small Lake Placid street is reportedly the only business of its kind in Florida and only one of three or four in the world.

From his Tomoka Heights home, Jim Mancuso designs and distributes digital cameras, lenses, software and electronics for use in electron microscopes, instruments that use an electron beam to illuminate a specimen and produce a magnified image. They can achieve magnifications of up to about 10,000,000 times and are invaluable for the investigation of specimens including microorganisms, cells, large molecules, biopsy samples, metals and crystals.

In industry, the microscope is often used for quality control and failure analysis, and modern electron microscopes produce electron micrographs, using specialized digital cameras or frame grabbers to capture the image. That is where Mancuso's company, Advanced Microscopy Techniques, Corp. (AMT), and his unusual occupation comes in.

Based in Woburn, Mass., AMT's staff of eight designs and manufactures digital camera imaging systems for Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM).

The electron microscope is a type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons to create an image of the specimen. It is capable of much higher magnifications and has a greater resolving power than a light microscope, allowing it to see much smaller objects in finer detail. They are large and expensive - from $300,000 to $500,000 - and generally stand alone in a small, specially-designed room, requiring trained personnel to operate them.

It's a defined, small, specialized field for professions that hold immense consequences with their use. They are vital for medical research, device testing, toxicology, forensics, sample preparation and dynamic materials experiments, among other applications.

"Yes, it's unusual. It's a niche. In a sense, it's my baby," said Mancuso, 64, who moved to Lake Placid with his wife and Patricia, an AMT accountant, in 2010.

From Lake Placid, by computer Mancuso - who holds a doctorate degree in nuclear materials from Cornell University - designs software to run and make TEM cameras. Once completed, the plans are submitted to a company in Jupiter that makes the actual product, which can run up to $15,000 each.

In the end, the idea is to provide a means of getting digital images for electron microscopes, rather than using regular film and developing and printing it before sending it to an engineer or doctor.

Dr. Cameron Ackerly, a laboratory scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, said Mancuso's skills and company's support and products are extremely dependable. He said he met Mancuso when he first founded AMT and is often used as a "guinea pig" for AMT's products. He said the work he does is innovative and invaluable for medicine and medical research dealing with biological specimens and patient care materials.

"His products are extremely straightforward and so is the software that runs it, He's one of the most noted suppliers," he said, speaking from Toronto. "He goes the extra step in his work. It's been interesting watching him develop over the years."

In addition to his work in Lake Placid, Mancuso said his job keeps him on the go, with clients and companies in countries including Japan, China, Korea, India, England, Canada, France, Germany and Australia. He said he spends about five weeks each summer at the Woburn office and makes three to four overseas trips each year, where the market for his products isn't as saturated.

A native of Farmingdale, N.Y., after getting a bachelor of science and master's degree from State University of New York at Stony Brook, Mancuso worked in combustion engineering in Pittsburgh and made electron microscopes from 1984 to 1989, before starting his own company with small business grants in 1991, joining associate Leo Fama, and staring AMT in his garage with a staff of three in 1994.

By 1996, he was renting office space in Danvers, Mass., before opening AMT offices in Peabody in 2010. To date, AMT has installed over 1,700 units of the TEM camera systems. He said he often logs in via computer to Boston and can run his product and microscopes from Lake Placid, something that would have been impossible to do just 10 years ago.

Mancuso, who has three grown children and enjoys swing and ballroom dancing in his spare time, said some say the best jobs are the ones that don't seem like work. Mancuso said he found that.

"I'm semi-retired; doing this is just a busy hobby now. I would like to continue doing this at some level for a very long time," he said.


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