Aaron Putzke

A highly sophisticated microscope funded through a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will enhance both research and teaching at Hope College.

The NSF has awarded the college $427,450 for a Nikon A1 laser scanning confocal microscope system.  Scheduled to arrive on campus later this month, the instrument will be a cornerstone of the college’s new microscopy facility, which features four microscopes, each of which has different capabilities.

The new instrument, like the others in the laboratory, will be used by faculty-student research teams from a variety of departments, with projects ranging from studying cell functioning in the microscopic roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans, to 3D surface imaging of skeletal crystal orientation in sea urchin spines.  A total of six groups from three of the  eight departments in the natural and applied sciences--biology, chemistry, and the geological and environmental sciences--already have plans for new microscope, a number that the grant’s principal investigator, Dr. Aaron Putzke, anticipates will only grow.

“It’s really nice to obtain an instrument that’s useful to a division, as opposed to a few people in one department,” said Putzke, an assistant professor of biology and Towsley Research Scholar at Hope who will be among the researchers using the new system.  “As more and more people realize the capabilities of the microscope, I expect there will be more researchers than that.”

In addition to allowing the study of samples at the molecular level at high resolutions, the new microscope permits viewing of thick samples and even living samples while also zeroing in on specific layers within the material being studied.  The flexibility, in combination with its image quality, will be a boon to researchers, Putzke noted.

“It gives us much higher resolution, which will allow us more accuracy in our data collection,” he said.  “It’s technology that allows us to answer more questions than what we could answer with what we have now.”

Crucially, he said, the new system is also going to prove a boon in science education at the college.  Students participating in the research projects alongside their faculty mentors will be working with the instrument, but it will also be available to students in classes at the college, giving them experience with technology normally found only at large research universities—and not typically available to undergraduates.

“Part of our focus is to expose students to current technology used in research, so people will use it in courses,” Putzke said.  “We can expose well over 100 students a year by including coursework and not just research purposes.”

The other three major research instruments in the microscope facility are a Zeiss Axiovert 200M Apotome inverted epifluorescent system, Nikon Eclipse TE300 inverted epifluorescent microinjection system, and Olympus BH2 upright epifluorescent system.