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State-of-the-art microscope comes to NMSU with help of NSF grant

The National Science Foundation awarded New Mexico State University with a Major Research Instrumentation grant to purchase a highly sophisticated optical imaging microscope.

The Leica TCS SP5 laser scanning confocal microscope will boost research efforts at NMSU. The state-of-the-art instrument will be housed in Skeen Hall. (Courtesy Leica Microsystems).

The laser scanning confocal microscope will boost research efforts with its expanded capabilities and allow NMSU to broaden research and teaching capacities for faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.

When a specimen is examined on any microscope, it is illuminated for higher visibility. During this process there is a fair amount of scattered light, but the confocal microscope removes the out-of-focus light.

"It's also a problem when the tissue sample is too thick and we need to slice it. This microscope allows us to optically section it to look at the volume of the sample; the imaging is much more quantitative," said NMSU Biology Department Assistant Professor Jennifer Curtiss, principal investigator on the grant proposal. "We can also look at live tissue in real time."

That live cell imaging is another one of the confocal microscope's major capabilities and will be useful in the lab exercise on fruit fly eyes.

Several departments in different colleges at NMSU worked to acquire the funding for the grant including co-principal investigators Charles Brad Shuster, Michele Nishiguchi and Elba

Serrano within biology; departments in the College of Engineering; departments in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; and Laura Haas and Sudha Murthy in the office of the vice president for research.

Those departments wrote letters to be included in the grant proposal detailing the diverse needs and uses NMSU has for this type of instrument.

They will use the microscope and laboratory for their individual research purposes; it will be housed in the Electron Microscopy Laboratory (EML) in Skeen Hall.

Laboratory manager and co-PI on the grant Peter Cooke will oversee the microscope's operations for the different groups that will be using it, and adjust the instrument accordingly.

"This is really a new and maturing technology for research for the university, it's state of the art," Cooke said. "The integrated imaging is a modern effort where different types of images come together to give a fuller image of the samples."

The EML currently houses an older version of the confocal microscope that was new at the time of acquisition in 1999. It won't go to waste though - that instrument will go to Jessica Houston in the chemical engineering department.

Curtiss said she is working with the directors of on-campus undergraduate research programs such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to introduce the microscope to students at an early phase of their college career and research training. This will enhance their skills and competitiveness for entry into top graduate programs. Other undergraduate programs include Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC), Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) and Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP).

The confocal microscope will not only benefit NMSU, it also will serve the entire state and region.

"This is a resource not just for NMSU, but for the other NMSU campuses and other New Mexico universities," Curtiss said. "The University of New Mexico has a confocal microscope, but it's very busy and doesn't have some of the capabilities this one will have. UTEP doesn't have anything like this."

Cooke said the instrument will be made in Germany by a top company in the field. It will take eight weeks before it arrives at NMSU. The grant is made possible by stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

For more information on the confocal microscope, contact Jennifer Curtiss at jcurti01@nmsu.edu or Peter Cooke at phcooke@nmsu.edu.

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