An award is made to the University of Maryland to develop a novel imaging technology, light-sheet Brillouin microscopy, to measure how biological cells grow into complex tissues during embryonic development. While previous technologies have mostly focused on probing genetic and biochemical control of tissue growth, this research will improve the understanding the biomechanical aspect of embryonic development. The project will generate a new instrument whose performance and design will be disseminated via conferences, peer-reviewed journal papers as well as hosting interested biological researchers. The project, at the interface of photonics, biomechanics and developmental biology, will provide opportunities to educate and train graduate and undergraduate students with a diverse set of skills. The project will also be used to attract middle-school students to STEM fields with activities relying on hands-on exercises that create quick connections between photonic technology and real-life familiar applications.

While our understanding of genetic, biochemical and molecular controls of tissue growth can rely on several established methods, the biomechanics of tissue morphogenesis remains poorly understood mostly due to the lack of suitable measurement techniques. This project addresses this need by developing light-sheet Brillouin microscopy capable of mapping elastic modulus in a developing embryo without contact at high 3D resolution. Brillouin microscopy has already proven impactful in tissue and cell biomechanics, but currently relies on point-scanning to build an image and thus is not suited for embryo studies due to speed and damage limitations. This project will develop massively multiplexed Brillouin spectral analysis and integrate it in widely used light-sheet microscopy platforms, which already provide structural and functional imaging, thus enabling mechanobiology studies of morphogenesis with co-localization of elasticity information, cell/tissue size, shape and organization as well as signaling activation and expression patterns. Co-Funding for this award is also being provided by the BIO/IOS-Developmental Systems Cluster.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Steven Ellis
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University of Maryland College Park
College Park
United States
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