Accessible to all UMD researchers, students and collaborators, the new microscope will provide higher resolution and more speed while being gentler on live samples
University of Maryland’s Imaging Core Director Amy Beaven received more than $557,000 from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Shared Instrumentation Grant program to purchase a new high-resolution laser scanning confocal microscope. The new instrument will be available for use before the end of the fall 2019 semester.
The highly competitive grant provides up to $600,000 for the purchase of state-of-the-art instruments to enhance the research of NIH-funded investigators. To win the grant, Beaven demonstrated substantial NIH funding to users of the UMD Imaging Core, which is a shared campuswide resource housed in the Microbiology building and supported by the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics. Beaven will use the funds to purchase a Zeiss LSM 980 Airyscan fast laser scanning confocal microscope, which will be available for use by all UMD faculty members, students, postdocs and collaborators.
“This scope will bring the Imaging Core back to the forefront of technology,” said Beaven.
“The Airyscan detector is four to eight times more sensitive than a traditional confocal light detector, and it allows for a twofold increase in resolution with less photobleaching and less damage to live samples than traditional confocal scopes.”
The scanner on the new microscope can also scan faster at higher resolution than can achieved on either of the two confocal microscopes currently housed in the Imaging Core. (25 frames per second at 512 x 512 pixels, with a resolution of 140nm x,y, 45nm z)
“This new instrument will have a transformative impact on several NIH-funded research projects and beyond,” said Wolfgang Losert, professor of physics and associate dean for research of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at UMD. “We are very proud of Amy for the work it took to win this highly competitive grant. It’s very unusual for the director of a shared core facility to be so proactive and take such initiative in bringing new state-of-the-art equipment into the facility.”
Beaven—who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological sciences from UMD in 1996 and 1999, respectively—came to work at the university in 2005 to oversee the combined Imaging and Genomics Core facilities. She has since trained more than 850 users to independently use the facility’s microscopes.
“I saw my confocals were getting older and that they would need to be updated soon,” Beaven said. “I also saw that this award was available to me as a director and not a researcher with a Ph.D. I had never applied for a grant on my own before. So, I’m excited that we were able to get it.”
To develop the grant proposal, Beaven worked with Zeiss and multiple UMD scientists to conduct demonstrations on the instrument and ensure it includes the features needed.
“It was invaluable that Amy was able to bring these microscope demo sessions into our core facility,” said Sougata Roy, an assistant professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD. Roy is one of twelve UMD researchers with NIH-funded work who supported Beaven through the various steps of the grant process and added their names to the proposal, emphasizing the shared need for the new instrument.
“During the demo, we made a very exciting discovery that so far had eluded direct visual analyses by any other live-cell microscopic methods,” Roy said. “We are very eager to continue exploring this new discovery when the new Zeiss fast Airyscan system arrives.”
The results of Roy’s work during the instrument demonstrations were published in the journal eLife in 2018. The research revealed individual molecules of an important signaling protein traveling between cells by “surfing” along thin hair-like projections.
“This single-molecule scale resolution with live cells is remarkably challenging for microscopic imaging,” Roy said. “Knowledge of these mechanisms will bring important conceptual breakthroughs in the cell and developmental biology field and will provide the foundation for future success in understanding development, regeneration, and tissue engineering.”
The new confocal microscope will be the highest-resolution confocal scanning microscope on campus, and the only one of its kind available campuswide.
The Imaging Core was established by the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics in 2000 to provide the UMD community with access to sophisticated light microscopes and imaging instrumentation that would be cost prohibitive for any individual investigator to purchase and maintain. In 2018, researchers from 57 labs representing 14 departments in four colleges plus two off-campus research facilities used the Imaging Core. More than 130 research publications have resulted from use of the Imaging Core.
“With the state-of-the-art facilities the university has supported, we’ve been able to do excellent research, which has, in turn, enabled us to win this highly competitive grant,” Losert said. “It is a feedback loop that will allow us to continue to stay at the forefront of research in a number of areas.”
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The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $175 million.