RICHLAND - The brightly colored images produced by a new $1 million microscope at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are starting to provide answers about how human health might be affected by nanoparticles.
The multi-photon confocal microscope was just one item on the laboratory’s wish list that it’s been able to purchase with $60 million of federal economic stimulus money awarded to the laboratory’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.
EMSL had a five-year plan for purchasing scientific equipment, but the additional money allowed it to accelerate up to 80 percent of that plan, said Allison Campbell, EMSL director. That’s a huge advantage, she said.
The power of EMSL is in integrating multiple sophisticated scientific instruments at the same location to solve the nation’s most complex scientific problems. By purchasing them all at once instead of during half a decade, plans could be made to maximize that integration.
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“It’s going to help us really tackle the hard problems and advance the science more rapidly,” Campbell said.
EMSL is a national user facility, playing host to researchers across the world who require its unique set of instruments and computational power to tackle difficult scientific challenges.
The 31 new instruments, systems and upgrades being purchased with the $60 million – many of which include microscopy and mass spectrometry capabilities – will help attract researchers at all levels. But they will be particularly important in attracting experienced and distinguished researchers, Campbell said.
Some of the instruments are purchased off the shelf, but about 40 percent were custom built by a vendor or by EMSL in a collaboration between machinists and scientists, she said.
The multi-photon confocal microscope will be used for a broad range of research focused on the study of living cells and tissue, including what happens when nanoparticles are introduced into an organism or their environment.
In one research project, the live lung cells from a mouse glow green and researchers can see that nanoparticles that glow red have been enclosed in the cells’ vesicles, which can transport substances.
It’s a possible clue to how nanoparticles someday might be used to deliver drugs in people.
In another research project, translucent embryonic fish are being watched under the microscope as they grow to see what happens to nanoparticles in the fish. It could provide clues to how nanoparticles might affect other vertebrates , including humans.
Joe Fisher, a doctoral student at Oregon State University working under the direction of professor Robert Tanguay, makes the drive to the Tri-Cities to put zebrafish in a culture dish sample under the new multi-photon confocal microscope by the time they’re 24 hours old.
“You can do this research with other microscopes, but they are far more complicated, and you will get much less data,” Fisher said.