This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) award funds the acquisition of a laser scanning confocal microscope at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The microscope has sufficiently high resolution and fast data acquisition rate to be used in biological and materials research, and its acquisition will transform research at RIT by significantly enhancing imaging capabilities. The four main projects that will be impacted are (1) examination of the evolution of development in echinoderms through fate mapping and examination of gene expression, (2) subcellular localization of plant proteins, (3) characterization of the viscoelasticity of eye lens protein solutions as a function of composition and temperature and mapping their glass transition boundaries, and (4) examination of the colloidal glass transition. At least fifteen faculty members in the departments of biological sciences, medical sciences, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and biomedical engineering will be impacted by this new imaging system. The faculty users actively involve undergraduate students in all phases of their projects, including publishing and presenting at national meetings. Several faculty members also support Master's students. The acquisition of the microscope will directly address the NSF goal of improving the access to and increasing the use of state-of-the-art equipment.
The confocal microscope will be integral in creating a multidisciplinary research training environment as it will be housed in a central location to facilitate collaborations between faculty and students across science and engineering. Undergraduate research students will work on research projects with their faculty mentors, workshops will be given on confocal microscopy to train new users (undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and external users), the confocal microscope will be used in current research-based courses, and a new multidisciplinary course will be developed and delivered by the PIs. This course will provide students with hands-on experience with microscopy in student/faculty designed research projects, and the confocal microscope will have an integral role. The acquisition of the confocal microscope will have broader impacts beyond enhancing RIT's infrastructure for research and facilitating the integration of research and education. These include broadening the participation of underrepresented groups, especially the deaf and hard-of-hearing students at RIT, women in science and engineering, and faculty and students who are AALANA (African American, Latino/a American, Native American). Results of the research projects will be presented at undergraduate research seminars and symposia, local, regional and national meetings, and will be published in peer-reviewed journals.
This NSF grant was used to purchase a laser scanning confocal microscope and set up a Confocal Microscopy Lab at Rochester Institute of Technology. The confocal microscope makes use of fluorescence of a sample and can take an image in a single optical plane and eliminate all out of focus light. The result is a high-resolution image (200nm) that can show exquisite details of structure. The microscope can also image at high speeds (8000Hz) to make time-lapse movies of fast objects on a microscopic scale. Faculty and students at Rochester Institute of Technology in biology-related fields use the confocal microscope to show details of development in embryos, detailed anatomical structure in invertebrate animals, orientation of specific proteins in bacteria, formation of medically-relevant biofilms, development of dyes specifically targeted to cancer cells, localization of proteins inside cells, and variations in blood composition in birds. Faculty and students in physics, math, chemistry and engineering use the confocal microscope to study fine structures and fluorescence properties of chemical films, pH changes in aerosol droplets, development of new printing materials, and the movements and behavior of extremely small particles in solution. The confocal microscope at RIT is broadly used by faculty, undergraduate students and graduate students across the College of Science, Kate Gleason College of Engineering, College of Health Sciences and Technology, and College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. In a single year, over 30 faculty and their 38 undergraduate research students have used this microscope. Over 200 undergraduate students have used the confocal microscope in their lab-based courses across science and engineering fields. Using the confocal microscope in undergraduate research and in lab-based courses allows faculty to integrate research and education to provide richer hands-on learning experiences for students. This includes not only the development of technical skills in microscopy, but also the development of critical thinking, written communication, and presentation skills associated with undergraduate research. In the past year, faculty and students have given nineteen presentations at local, regional and national meetings. Publications have been submitted with undergraduate coauthors and more are in preparation.