UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new cryo-electron microscope, cryo-EM, that is also a spectrometer will bring life science methods together with materials science practices together to improve both fields and share methods across disciplines.
"The FEI Titan/Krios transmission electron microscope (TEM) operates at about -320 degrees Fahrenheit using liquid nitrogen. It is built to order and has a novel configuration that is the first of its type in the world," said Nigel Deighton, director of research instrumentation, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State. "It was built, not just for the usual user, which is a life scientist, but it enables spectroscopy as well."
Spectrographs look at the interaction of electromagnetic energy — infra-red, optical, ultraviolet or X-ray — with compounds and elements in materials. Cryo-EM looks at frozen samples and can see structures down to the atomic level. This method can produce 3-D images of biological molecules like DNA, proteins and viruses.
"We are proud to be making this significant investment to further the convergence of the physical and life sciences at Penn State," said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research. "Part of what pushes our research to the forefront is the ability for teams to collaborate and integrate knowledge and techniques across disciplines, continually learning from each other in both formal team settings and casual discussions. Our state-of-the-art instrumentation facilities in the Millennium Science Complex are themselves designed to support this dynamic kind of teamwork. The new Krios TEM adds to these capabilities and opens a whole a whole new realm of investigational possibilities."
Biologists, materials scientists and other researchers around Penn State and from outside the University will be able to use this new addition to the trove of common equipment available at Penn State.
"I want to understand viruses better and I study virus entry into the cell," said Susan Hafenstein, director of the cryo-EM facility, and associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and associate professor of medicine. "If we could stop entry, we can defeat them."
Hafenstein studies picornaviruses which have RNA genes so that every time they multiply they have mutations. This makes it hard to create vaccines and treatments because standard approaches are aiming at moving targets. If researchers can find parts of the virus that will not tolerate mutations, vaccines could target that part and be successful in preventing the diseases caused by these viruses.