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University's High-tech Microscopes Help Scientists Conduct Wide Range of Research

A group of microscopes that can magnify images as much as 600,000 times their normal size was the focus of a Research Rally Jan. 24 at New Mexico State University

by New Mexico State University
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By using such highly advanced microscopes, NMSU scientists are able to examine the most intricate details of objects such as nanofabricated devices, used in electrical engineering projects, and the bacteria in rumen fluid from cattle, when studying rumen nutrition and rumen microbiology. Physics students use the instruments to measure the surface roughness of special coatings, and agricultural researchers are able to get an intimate look at the chloroplasts contained in individual plant cells, thanks to the high-powered microscopes.

The university has a centralized suite of high-tech microscopes, valued at $1.3 million, which are available to scientists to help with research projects. Peter Cooke directs the multi-user Microscopic Imaging Core Suite, which is part of the Core University Research Resources Laboratory. The suite, housed in Skeen Hall, includes an atomic force microscope, a spectral confocal microscope, a scanning electron microscope, a tabletop electron microscope and a transmission electron microscope.

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Each instrument has particular strengths, with the atomic force microscope the newest acquisition, in 2012. The confocal microscope was added in 2010, and the three electron microscopes were acquired in 2006.

Vice President for Research Vimal Chaitanya said the effort to concentrate and expand microscopy services for faculty members at NMSU has been a success, helping them conduct their research without having to acquire and maintain their own equipment.

NMSU Executive Vice President and Provost Daniel J. Howard praised the efforts of Jennifer Curtiss, associate professor of biology, and Hongmei Luo, assistant professor of chemical engineering, for successfully pursuing Major Research Instrumentation grants from the National Science Foundation. Curtiss was principal investigator on a grant that enabled the acquisition of the confocal microscope, and Luo led the effort to acquire a scanning probe microscope. The addition of the two instruments greatly augmented the capabilities of the lab.

The two worked for the good of the university and their colleagues in pursuing the instruments, and Howard expressed his thanks.

“It’s something that I appreciate greatly,” he said.

Cooke said it is not practical for every researcher to have such expensive, high-end equipment, and so more efficient approaches and the sharing of such instruments makes more sense.

“This approach consolidates the facilities and makes it an economically viable way to operate and it puts expertise together, as well,” Cooke said. “Having shared expertise and shared equipment is an effective way to manage an operation.”

The microscopes are primarily used by researchers in the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Engineering. Most often used is the confocal microscope. Researchers logged 438 sessions with the confocal microscope during the past year.

Cooke’s goals for the microscope project include facilitating access, broadening the user base, promoting practical applications and acquiring more imaging capability.

Chaitanya praised Cooke’s direction of the microscope suite.

“The value Peter Cooke adds to this campus is immeasurable,” Chaitanya said.

Cooke joined the university in 2009 after an extensive career at the University of Kansas, the University of Connecticut Health Center, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and at the Microscopic Imaging Core Group at the Eastern Regional Research Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Cooke holds a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of New Hampshire. His post-doctoral research was done subsequently at The Biological Laboratories at Harvard, the Boston Biomedical Research Institute and the Oxford Research Unit of The Open University in the U.K.