Although flow cytometry is simply a technique that is useful in certain fields of scientific endeavor, there is, at the same time, something special about it. Few other techniques involve specialists from so many different backgrounds. Anyone working with flow systems for any length of time will realize that computer buffs, electronics experts, mathematicians, optical and fluidics engineers, and organic chemists rub shoulders with biologists, physicians, and surgeons around the flow cytometer bench.
And it is not just a casual rubbing of shoulders, in passing, so to speak. Many of the specialists involved in flow cytometry might, if asked, call themselves flow cytometrists because the second aspect of flow cytometry that distinguishes it from many other techniques is that flow cytometry has itself become a "field." Indeed, it is a field of endeavor and of expertise that has captured the imaginations of many people. As a result, there exists a spirit of camaraderie; flow cytometry societies, groups, meetings, networks, websites, journals, courses, and books abound.
A third aspect of flow cytometry (known sometimes simply with the acronym for fluorescence-activated cell sorter, FACS, or even more familiarly as just flow) that distinguishes it from many other techniques is the way in which its wide and increasing usefulness has continued to surprise even those who consider themselves experts. What began as a clever technique for looking at a very limited range of problems is now being used in universities, in hospitals, within industry, at marine stations, on submersible buoys, and on board ships; plans have existed for use on board space ships as well. The applications of flow cytometry have proliferated (and continue to proliferate) rapidly both in the direction of theoretical science, with botany, molecular biology, embryology, biochemistry, marine ecology, genetics, microbiology, and immunology, for example, all represented; and in the direction of clinical diagnosis and medical practice, with hematology, bacteriology, pathology, oncology, obstetrics, and surgery involved. We are, at present, living through what appears to be a rapid phase in flow cytometry's growth curve