This award provides funds to purchase a Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (FESEM) with a cryo transfer stage and an energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) system for the Electron Microscopy Laboratory (EM Lab), a multi-user facility at the main campus of the University of Connecticut. The new instrument replaces a heavily used 15-year old FESEM, thus ensuring continued FESEM availability and providing new capabilities to enhance and expand both research and research training at the University of Connecticut. The FESEM provides images of a variety of materials at resolutions previously unattainable in this facility. A charge compensation system minimizes image degradation in poorly conducting samples. A backscatter detector and EDS system provide compositional information and the ability to detect immunogold particles conjugated to macromolecules within cells and tissues. The cryo transfer system allows samples to be rapidly frozen, transferred to the microscope and viewed at high resolution in the fully hydrated state, with minimal contamination by water or hydrocarbons. Controlled sublimation of water at the surface reveals surface morphology without major structural change and identifies the location of water in the sample. These features are especially beneficial for study of highly hydrated samples such as plant tissues or biofilms, which tend to shrink and collapse with removal of water. The cryo transfer system also allows samples to be fractured and/or coated after freezing and prior to transfer and viewing. The major users of the new instrumentation represent a wide range of disciplines from evolutionary biology to bioengineering. The group includes both senior investigators with well-established programs and junior faculty members developing their careers. One senior faculty member is from Connecticut College, a predominantly undergraduate institution with no FESEM instrumentation. The projects these investigators are carrying out include studies of water transport and conservation in woody plants and bryophytes, systematics of tapeworms in elasmobranchs, morphology of green algae, ecology of desert biotic crusts, structure of porous metal oxide nanoparticles, molecular biology and physiology of plant cell walls, ecology and biogeography of freshwater chrysophytes, nucleation of minerals in marine biofilms, and biomechanics and microstructure of heart valves.

This system provides state-of-the-art electron imaging capabilities to a highly active and multidisciplinary group of faculty and students, enhancing both research and research training. Their research is helping to identify and classify new species of tapeworms found around the world. It is characterizing microbe-mineral interactions at the interface between the bio- and lithospheres that are critical in the search of the origin of life, life on other planets, the characterization of natural reservoir (porosity and permeability), and carbon sequestration. Studies of a variety of plant species are contributing to understanding of the ability of land plants to withstand desiccation and transport water and of the composition and function of the plant cell walls. Structural data on chrysophytes and diatomes found in Arctic lake systems of the early Cenozoic are providing an unprecedented opportunity to understand how Arctic ecosystems may change under future greenhouse climates. Structural and compositional studies of porous oxide catelysts and octahedral molecular seive manganese oxides are potentially useful for oil spills and remediation of pollutants. Studies of the fibrous structure of heart valves are providing data to help generate computational models of how human heart valves respond to minimally invasive heart valve repair and replacement. The purchased equipment is helping to drive new research initiatives and promote collaborative research within this group of investigators and beyond.

Project Report

This award provided funds to purchase a Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (FESEM) with a cryotransfer stage and an energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy system for the Bioscience Electron Microscopy Laboratory, a multi-user facility at the main campus of the University of Connecticut. The FESEM replaces a 15-year old instrument that was heavily used by researchers across the University. Its replacement ensures continued availability of this essential instrumentation and provides important new capabilities to enhance and expand both research and research training at the University of Connecticut. Intellectual Merit: The scanning electron microscope and ancillary equipment have been used in projects across a broad range of disciplines. These investigations include: use of fine structure to study species diversity in parasites of marine and freshwater animals; characterization of cellularized and decellularized esophagus and tendon used to engineer better implants; studies of cell adhesion to synthetic scaffolding used in the design of artificial tendons; studies of the effects of chemical compounds on cell division in cultured colon cancer cells; identification and characterization of potentially invasive species of algae found in Connecticut waterways; surveys of diatoms in core samples taken from Eocene craters that provide data about variations in the earth’s climate; structure and composition of a variety of metal oxide nanoparticles and porous materials being developed for use as catalysts; and investigation of the effects of freeze-thaw cycles on the process of chemical encapsulation in liposomes used in drug delivery. Data produced with the purchased instruments has been included in 11 peer reviewed journal articles and 17 conference papers. Broader Impacts: Scanning Electron Microscopy is an essential characterization technique in many fields of science and technology. It is critical that the next generation of scientists be acquainted with its practice using state-of-the-art equipment. Since this equipment was received, 98 researchers have benefited from its presence on the University of Connecticut main campus, including 25 faculty, 6 postdocs, 46 graduate students, 17 undergraduate students and 4 staff. Of these, 69 have received full or partial training on the equipment, (6 faculty, 6 postdocs, 41 graduate students, 13 undergraduates and 3 staff). This group includes researchers from Connecticut College and SUNY Oneonta. During the past two summers, undergraduates taking part in a summer research program were able to see the equipment in action during laboratory tours and workshops are being provided for local middle and high school students. Many images from the instrument are available to the general public at

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Robert Fleischmann
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University of Connecticut
United States
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