An award is made to the University of Memphis to develop an innovative imaging system for unstained cells, tissues, and organs. Current imaging systems cannot image thick samples with high resolution. This project will overcome this limitation by developing an instrument that will provide thick-sample imaging with high resolution. This project will integrate research and education to stimulate interest in Optical Engineering, providing students with a unique set of skills for succeeding in their professional careers. Optical Engineering is the field of study that focuses on the development and application of optics and photonics, including instrumentation. In this project, five educational activities are focused on transferring the knowledge of Optical Engineering. These educational activities include the following: (1) an online Optical Engineering Certificate; (2) a Summer Workshop in Advanced Optical Microscopic Techniques; (3) the creation of a STEM club in Lausanne Collegiate School so high-school students can develop science projects that are generally not possible in science classrooms; (4) a partnership with the Pink Palace Museum to expose the public to optics and microscopy; and (5) summer internships to undergraduate students, exposing them to research activities and new career paths. This project has several broader impacts. The most important broader impact is the enhancement of the imaging infrastructure for biological research and expanding our knowledge of cell behavior. Another significant broader impact is the increase in career opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. During this project, the PI will create research, education, and scientific outreach videos using the YouTube platform. These videos will provide hands-on demonstrations of building imaging systems and the use of optical tools to align them. Students involved in this project will participate in these videos, allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of the topic and improving their communication skills. The videos will be available in English and Spanish audio to support the educational growth of Hispanic students across the United States.

Available methods of light microscopy do not enable three-dimensional (3D) super-resolution (SR) imaging of thick (>50 μm) biological samples without staining. This limitation results in a significant gap in our understanding of dynamic changes occurring in the 3D cell-shape and behavior of unstained specimens. This project will enable biological investigators to advance their knowledge of a large number of biological questions relating to cell growth and dynamics as well as for investigating cell behavior in thick tissue slices. The intellectual merit of the proposed imaging system includes novel advances in hardware and computational methods. The evaluation of the proposed system will be performed using calibrated manufactured objects and relevant biological specimens including human neuroblastoma cells, primary murine stem cells, and murine blastocysts. The interdisciplinary team involved in this project will systematically compare images obtained with the proposed system with images from existing methods including confocal microscopy, the Lionheart FX system, and the NanoLive platform.

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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Robert Fleischmann
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University of Memphis
United States
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