For the first time in Syracuse University history, a department has received a prestigious S10 instrumentation grant from the National Institutes of Health. The S10 program, which supports the purchase of high-tech instruments to enhance research by NIH researchers, funded the acquisition of a Zeiss LSM980 confocal microscope. The new equipment will provide researchers at Syracuse University with crisp, detailed images of specific sections of cells.
The S10 scholarship was awarded to George Langford, Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor Emeritus of Biology, in collaboration with colleagues from Syracuse University and SUNY Northern State University of Medicine.
Housed in the Department of Biology’s Blatt BioImaging Center, which is under the direction of Assistant Professor Heidi Hehnly, the confocal microscope adds to the centre’s variety of sensitive instruments. With many specialized microscopes, researchers have the equipment to study a wide variety of samples, from yeast cells at the microscopic level to whole organisms. Blatt BioImaging Center equipment is available by reservation to anyone at Syracuse University, SUNY Upstate, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and other local institutions.
We recently caught up with the director of the Blatt BioImaging Center, Mike Bates, to learn more about the new confocal microscope and its benefits for faculty and student researchers at the College of Arts and Sciences.
How does a confocal microscope work?
The state-of-the-art Zeiss LSM980 allows us to visualize visual sections of tiny structures, such as embryos that would be difficult to physically section, and to construct 3D structures from the resulting images. The basic technique scans an object point by point using a focused laser beam to allow 3D reconstruction.
For someone who is not familiar with this technology, how is a confocal microscope different from other microscopes?
In a typical microscope (“wide field”), the entire object is illuminated, but this can create a blur from out of focus areas above and below the image plane. A confocal microscope scans a sample with a focused beam of light. The downside of a wide field system is that it does not work well with thick samples that scatter light. For thicker samples, confocal will give a greater improvement in resolution.
If a scientist is looking for a quick and dirty reason to choose one microscope over another, he must ask himself whether he has a thin or thick sample. Thin sample usually means large field, tissue usually means confocal.
What type of research are you currently using this microscope for?
The Hehnly lab uses the Zeiss 980 for increased resolution of intracellular events that occur during embryonic development, but a wide variety of research programs use the Blatt BioImaging Center. We have seen researchers from disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, forensics, and engineering. These microscopes have been used to observe events in developmental and cellular biology, identify the biophysical properties of developing tissues, and understand protein-protein interactions.
Will students be able to use this technology?
Students can and currently use the system. In fact, we encourage students who think they can benefit from using a confocal microscope or wide-field telescope to take their samples down and try some imaging.
What is the benefit for them of learning to use a confocal microscope?
Learning microscopy adds a valuable skill to any student’s tool set, as it will enable them to answer questions that may be of particular interest to researchers. Learning to use cutting edge equipment like the Zeiss 980 will pay off throughout their scientific careers.
If someone wants to use a microscope at the Blatt BioImaging Center, what should they do?