The project will provide researchers at Montana State University (MSU) access to an advanced imaging instrument known as optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT was originally developed as a medical technology for imaging deep into the eye, but the technique has recently been adopted by academic researchers to see the internal, microscopic structure of thick biological samples that are impenetrable to traditional microscopy. OCT operates on principles similar to ultrasound but uses light rather than sound to image. At MSU, OCT will enable researchers in the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) to look inside thick microbial biofilms. These are films formed by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, are widespread in natural, medical, and industrial environments, and cause a tremendous number of problems, including tooth decay, medical device infections, industrial clogging, and fouling of ships. Knowledge of biofilm structure will provide researchers with the insight necessary to address biofilm-related problems in health, industry, energy and security. The CBE, one of the oldest NSF Engineering Research Centers in the US, has an excellent history of supporting education, outreach, and diversity over the past 25 years. Undergraduate and graduate researchers are majority female, and the CBE has a strong involvement with Native American communities. In addition, over the past ten years, the CBE has conducted more than 40 biofilm workshops for over 300 participants representing industry and government agencies. Through these workshops, the CBE has been instrumental in raising the awareness of biofilms in the medical and healthcare community. OCT imaging will play a key role in graduate and undergraduate research, as well as in future biofilm imaging workshops.
The project will provide an optical coherence tomography (OCT) instrument to researchers at Montana State University (MSU), including those in the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE). The instrument will be used to study the structure and properties of biofilms, multicellular communities of microorganisms that form on surfaces. These films are widespread in natural, medical, and industrial environments, and knowledge of biofilm structure is critical for academic and industrial biofilm research and development activities. Typically, confocal microscopy is used to obtain biofilm microscale structural information; however, confocal microscopy requires fluorescent labeling and offers limited penetrations depths, on the order of tens of microns. By contrast, OCT, which provides spatial and temporal resolutions nearly comparable to confocal microscopy, does not require labeling and can provide tissue penetration depths on the order of millimeters. The acquisition of OCT will provide a combination of resolution, penetration depth, and flow dynamics imaging unmatched by equipment currently available at MSU and will fill a gap in resident imaging capabilities. In addition to supporting fundamental and applied research, the OCT instrument will be used to support education, outreach, and diversity. The CBE has an excellent track record of broadening the participation of women and Native Americans in engineering and science through its research programs. Of the current CBE graduate and undergraduate students, 53% and 62% are female, respectively. Moreover, the MSU campus has multiple programs for involving Native Americans in science and engineering, and the CBE is a regular participant in these programs. Over the past ten years, the CBE has conducted more than 40 biofilm workshops for over 300 participants representing industry and government agencies. Through these workshops, the CBE has been instrumental in raising the awareness of biofilms in the medical and healthcare community. OCT imaging will play a key role in graduate and undergraduate research, as well as in future biofilm imaging workshops.