Students research the causes of cancer in the new Fletcher Jones Microscopy Center with Juliet Spencer, associate professor of biology.
A new half-million-dollar science
laboratory is shaking up the way research is done at USF. The lab advances the
university’s research in specialties like cancer, climate change, and nanotechnology
by 20 years.
At the heart of the lab are
three advanced instruments: a scanning confocal microscope, a scanning electron
microscope, and a flow cytometer.
- The confocal
microscope captures cell images in 3D
- The electron
microscope magnifies microscopic objects and captures images in high-resolution,
- The flow
cytometer analyzes cells in a fluid, blood being one example
“Now, students have the
chance to conduct research on instruments like those they’d find in labs at
Genentech, UCSF Medical Center, and the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Associate Professor Juliet Spencer, who chairs the Biology Department and
won a grant to build the Fletcher Jones Microscopy lab.
Spencer and her students, including
Carolyn Tu MS ’14, are hunting human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) inside cancer cells
with the confocal microscope. They believe HCMV triggers tumor growth. The
confocal allows Tu to zero in on a cell and capture a 3D image on her computer
monitor: spin it, turn it, and, amazingly, move inside it.
“It’s incredible to be
able to visualize the cell in this way. It’s like magic!” said Tu, whose work
couldn’t have been done at USF a year ago.
Nanotech & the environment
Physics students use the electron
microscope to study the tiny electronic components, or nanotechnology, that go
into computer chips, solar cells, and scanning electron microscopes themselves—with
the idea of improving on the current design.
“We’re studying scanning electron
microscope guns, the tiny needles that direct the laser and affect a microscope’s
image quality,” said Seth Foreman, assistant professor of physics, referring to
his student researchers. “We want to build the next generation of needles
capable of powering the next generation of scanning electron
microscopes—ultrafast electron microscopes,” Foreman said. “It’s a very new
Biology and environmental
science students use the same electron microscope to study the Earth’s oceans in
Professor Deneb Karentz’s class. “We’re using it to identify phytoplankton species
and study the effects of warming water and increased sunlight on them and other
ocean life,” Karentz said.
Improving health care
The flow cytometer sucks up cells in a fluid and analyzes
what molecules are present. “We’re using it to look at the various types of blood cells
and to identify leukemia, anemia, and leukopenia,” said Mary Jane Niles, a
biotech professor. The cytometer has dramatically reduced the time required to
analyze these samples, which used to be done under a standard microscope. What
used to take 30 minutes now takes a few seconds, Niles said.
Students using the
microscopes and cytometer for the first time find they’re easy to learn and easy
to operate, Niles said. Plus, they’re very durable. “I’m really impressed with
the research possibilities the new lab and equipment opens up to USF students,”
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