NIU earns grant to acquire high-tech microscope

  • Shared use of the new Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope is the focus of the grant application headed by Linda Yasui. The microscope is expected to generate new knowledge that will expand our understanding of life processes.

    Shared use of the new Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope is the focus of the grant application headed by Linda Yasui. The microscope is expected to generate new knowledge that will expand our understanding of life processes. Courtesy of NIU

Posted11/21/2020 12:57 AM

The National Science Foundation has awarded more than $250,000 in grant money to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb for acquisition of a cutting-edge high-resolution[microscope that will bolster university research and academic programs in the life sciences and engineering.

Awarded through NSF's Major Research Instrumentation program, the funding will be used to purchase a Zeiss LSM 900 with Airyscan 2 Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope (CLSM).


The high-tech microscope will allow researchers to observe dynamic processes in living specimens, track interaction among molecules and capture multiple two-dimensional images at different depths, enabling users to create three-dimensional high-resolution images. Academic programs that will benefit include biology, physics, chemistry, psychology and engineering.

"The opportunities for our students and faculty to expand research is very exciting," said Donald Peterson, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. "The equipment will help us expand our research in the biomedical engineering area and several other engineering disciplines as well. We are thrilled that we were able to participate in an inter-college effort to benefit our students and faculty."

Shared use of the new CLSM was the focus of the grant application headed by Linda Yasui (biological sciences), and co-primary investigators Peterson, Olivier Devergne (biological sciences), Elizabeth Gaillard (chemistry and biochemistry) and Tao Li (chemistry and biochemistry).

Robert Brinkmann, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the microscope elevates NIU's research resources to state-of-the-art. "This is excellent news," Brinkmann said. "The collaborative effort among faculty in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Engineering and Engineering Technology will benefit academic programs in both colleges."

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The microscope is expected to generate new knowledge that will expand our understanding of life processes.

"The Zeiss LSM 900 with Airyscan 2 CLSM has special features that will allow us to break the physical barriers that hinder conventional microscopes from imaging things that are smaller than 200 nanometers," said Biological Sciences Professor Linda Yasui, who has more than 40 years of experience with this type of equipment.

"This means we will be able to image molecular processes in materials and living systems to see how molecules behave under prescribed conditions and even determine interactions between molecules."

The microscope, which will be available for use during the Spring 2021 semester, will support many opportunities for research and education at NIU for graduate and undergraduate students. NIU faculty plan to apply the new technology to a wide array of studies, including on cancer and cancer treatment, developmental defects, antibiotic development, regenerative medicine, nanomedicine, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, effects of stress on the brain and the formation of new neurons in the brain.

The acquisition will also benefit scientific research on cellular energy metabolism, hybrid-polymer protein structures, biosensor development, protein-protein interactions, protein-lipid interactions, energy conversion/storage/catalysis/safety monitoring and protein catalysts, biomarker development, evolutionary ecology, genetics, the microbiome, stem cells, fluorescent dye development, detector development, and biodynamics in flow chamber systems.


The microscope will also provide successful educational experiences to train and nurture the next generation of STEM scientists. NIU plans to provide annual training for undergraduate and graduate students to teach skills and prepare students for professional positions or graduate education.

"We're hoping to inspire the next generation of researchers and to close the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students," Yasui said. "Undergraduates exposed to research benefit from the experience in the form of improved grades and retention. This is particularly true of underrepresented groups and first-generation students."

The microscope will be used in classes such as the biomedical engineering, cell biology and developmental biology labs. Additionally, more than two dozen of NIU's S-STEM scholars will learn about the latest imaging technology during research and professional development opportunities.

Non-NIU students will benefit from the addition of the microscope through the annual STEM Careers Life Sciences Summer Camp for high school students and STEM Cafe events that are open to the general public.

"As a campus we've been deliberately and steadily upgrading instrumentation," said Jerry Blazey, vice president for Research and Innovation Partnerships. "The new microscope -- combined with other new instrumentation -- greatly strengthens our biological and biomedical programs."

About NIU

Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.


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