Iowa State receives $795,000 grant for advanced electron microscope

AMES, Iowa -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Iowa State University a $795,000 grant to purchase a state-of-the-art scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) for research in the biological and material sciences. The instrument will be on campus in late spring 2007.

The new microscope will allow researchers to obtain two- and three-dimensional images of plant, animal and microbial cells and viruses and their sub-structures with extremely high resolution and magnification, from 50x to 1,000,000x. The microscope also can be used to study the structure of polymers and other non-biological materials.

The NSF grant was awarded to the university's Bessey Microscopy Facility directed by Harry T. (Jack) Horner, University Professor in genetics, development and cell biology.

"The new STEM will provide superior results for ultra- and nano-structure research in a faster, more reliable way," Horner said. "This large grant from NSF is an indicator of the important role and prominence that the Bessey Microscopy Facility and its staff play in microscopy-related research at Iowa State University and beyond."

Mufit Akinc, professor of materials science and engineering, will use the new STEM in his research on nanocomposites. Nanocomposites are microscopic polymers that are synthesized by adding very small particles, such as ceramics, to polymers to improve their performance in a variety of applications.

"This is indeed great news for all experimental researchers at Iowa State who use electron microscopy, both biological scientists and materials scientists like myself," Akinc said.

"The new microscope will have a cryo-stage feature that will let my research team observe our frozen samples directly in the microscope without having to dry them. This will eliminate several steps that we currently must do to prepare our samples for electron microscopy and will remove the risk of sample degradation that goes with each step," he said.

Akinc also said that the high-contrast imaging of specimens that will be possible with the new microscope will be important to his research.

Hilal Ilarslan, assistant scientist in the laboratory of Eve Wurtele, professor of genetics, development and cell biology, said that she will use the new STEM for studying various plant species.

"Our laboratory focuses on transgenic plants at the sub-cellular level, especially the physical changes that mutations make inside specific cells and tissues," Ilarslan said. "The new STEM will be a great asset to our work with its higher resolution imaging and faster throughput for data collection."

The Bessey Microscopy Facility, one of 12 instrumentation facilities supported by the university's Office of Biotechnology, serves faculty, students and staff from five colleges and 22 academic departments within the university, as well as off-campus private companies and institutions. To learn more about the Bessey Microscopy Facility and its services, phone (515) 294-3872 or visit the Web site at