There's nothing quite like looking through the viewfinder of a two-ton transmission electron microscope and beholding the "secrets of the universe reduced to angstroms." We could go on about angstroms all day, but there's much more to the Microscopy and Cell Analysis Core in Rochester. Or so we learned while browsing a recent edition of Inside Mayo Clinic Research, which brought readers inside the high-tech core facility.
We'll start, as that story does, with the equipment. The core boasts a transmission electron microscope, which offers a resolution roughly a thousand times greater than that of a light microscope. Using electrons as a light source, it can reveal remarkable cellular detail. Then there's a super-resolution light microscope, a new addition, where images of a cultured cell are magnified and focused onto an ultra-specialized digital camera and then visualized on a computer monitor where they can be enhanced and saved for further study. Not to mention the scanning electron microscope, which is particularly good at "looking at the surface of things."
These instruments can make researchers wax a bit poetic, saying things like, "A SEM micrograph can capture a larger drama unfolding, like a killer T-cell attacking a myeloma cell … its long green tendrils subduing the larger pinkish myeloma monster in a death grip." The researchers get a little artsy with it, too. The "otherworldly images" that come from the research "fuel an aesthetic subculture," where images are Photoshopped, enlarged to poster size, and displayed as art. "We have gorgeous images hanging all over the place," says Jeffrey Salisbury, Ph.D., director of the core facility. "One of the fun things about microscopy is you get a picture that you can appreciate at a scientific level, and you can appreciate it at an aesthetic level, too."
Those pictures are a by-product of the core's real mission: to help investigators advance their science and allow pathologists to screen and diagnose disease on a patient-by-patient basis. Core technicians spend their days looking at tissue samples with high-tech tools watching for patterns of disease. "We might see an array of virus particles that shouldn't be there or, say, microtubules or different filaments that would indicate a particular disease," says Jon Charlesworth, who manages the Electron Microscopy Lab within the core. "When we report this to a pathologist, it could have tremendous value in the overall diagnosis and treatment of the patient."
Read more (much more) of the piece (if you have intranet access) to discover what makes this core facility tick and why it's described as a place "where art meets science, where keen minds find a nurturing climate of collaboration in which science evolves on a shared path of discovery." Or read more about the Microscopy and Cell Analysis Core here.
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