The investment is seen by many as an attempt to capitalise on Olympus' presence in the life sciences sector, which has experienced continuous growth in recent years and is 'strategically important,' during the company's expansion. Olympus will invest approximately €15m in the project and by 2009 expected employment numbers will reach 450. While the primary focus of the R&D centre will be laboratory equipment, Olympus said that resources would also go into developing tools for digital image processing and microscopy applications. "We are bringing together a highly-qualified team from different fields of specialisation under one roof and are thus creating an interdisciplinary work environment from which all departments will benefit," said Dr Helmut Köhler, executive managing director of both Olympus Life Science Europa GmbH and Olympus Life Science Research Europa GmbH. Europe has proved fertile hunting ground for Olympus, and the company claims to have built up a commanding market position over key rivals such as Nikon, Carl Zeiss, Jeol, Leica and the Japanese manufacturer Unitron. Over the past four years, Olympus has demonstrated growth rates averaging 15.8 per cent in microscopy and 10.4 per cent in diagnostics, which the company says makes it one of the leading companies in both the microscopy and clinical chemistry markets. According to a report from Business Communications Company (BCC), the global market for microscopes and accessories is estimated at $1.65bn in 2004 and is expected to reach $2.77bn in 2009, an AAGR (average annual growth rate) of 11 per cent. BCC added that charged particle microscopes are the largest segment of this market, with over a 40 per cent share, and one of the fastest-growing segments, with an AAGR of 13 per cent. The second largest segment, optical microscopes have the lowest growth rate, and as a result are expected to lose market share significantly over the next five years. Scanning probe microscopes constituted less than 10 per cent of the market in 2003, but have the highest AAGR (20 per cent) through 2009. Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, Olympus' president, said: "The life sciences sector at Olympus has experienced continuous growth in recent years." "With our new global research and development centre in Munich we have created the foundation for future sustained grown in this business segment." As well as occupying significant market share in microscopy, Olympus has presence in the clinical chemistry market too. Late last year saw Olympus launch its clinical chemistry analyser, the AU680, which has been designed to help medium to high-throughput laboratories meet the ever increasing pressures on time and productivity. The analyser can run assays that use up to three different reagents and can store up to 63 different assay programs in its memory. The system is operated via a graphical user interface that includes embedded videos that support key maintenance steps. Likewise, September 2007 saw the release of the company's range of arc burner light sources for fluorescent work that feature power control to ensure stability and longer bulb lifetimes. According to the company, the top of the range MT20 provides illumination functionality for high-speed, multi-colour, live cell research.