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Powerful microscope provides new focus for sciences

October 14, 2013

With a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Lewis & Clark has acquired a laser scanning confocal microscope for research use by students and faculty in the biology, chemistry, and physics departments.

The Zeiss LSM 710—a powerful, highly specialized microscope—will allow users to image living cells and other small structures at high resolution and deep within a living organism for extended periods of time. Labs in all three departments will now be able to ask and address research questions at a deeper level than ever before.

“Science faculty are already designing specific new components for teaching labs that will use the new microscope,” Assistant Professor of Biology Tamily Weissman-Unni said. “Beyond experiencing its integration into coursework, students will also be able to use the microscope for collaborative research projects with faculty.”

The microscope will initially be incorporated into advanced science courses, though there are plans to expand its presence into introductory biology courses for nonmajors as well as a potential first-year core course that would explore the connections between art and biology. Weissman-Unni hopes that the microscope’s advanced imaging capabilities will impact students who may not have otherwise chosen to take courses in science. This hope also applies to high school students from underrepresented demographics in science: they will have the opportunity to use the new equipment as a part of Lewis & Clark’s HHMI-funded summer program.

In 2012, only about 25 percent of proposals to the NSF for grants such as this were successful. Weissman-Unni believes that Lewis & Clark’s success on this front is due largely to the strength and diversity of faculty who proposed cutting-edge research that will be enabled by the new equipment and collaborated to demonstrate clear ideas about how the microscope would benefit students.

But above all, Weissman-Unni emphasized that the overlap of research and teaching at Lewis & Clark is an uncommon phenomenon. As a result of their contributions to original research, students have received more Goldwater Scholarships than students at any other private institution in Oregon since 2005.

In addition to lead investigator Weissman-Unni, the project’s principal investigators are Associate Professor of Biology Greg Hermann, Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Professor of Science Janis Lochner, Professor of Biology Deborah Lycan, Professor of Physics Bethe Scalettar, and Assistant Professor of Biology Norma Velazquez-Ulloa.

Katrina Staaf ’16 contributed to this story.

Department of Biology

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