Until March of this year, whenever Frederick J. Sigworth, Ph.D., needed electron cryomicroscopy to view the membrane proteins he studies, he sent a graduate student on the train to New York with a thermos that maintained samples in liquid nitrogen at minus 200 degrees Celsius. Now Sigworth, a professor of cellular and molecular physiology, need go no further than the lower level of Sterling Hall of Medicine. There, in newly renovated space, is a cluster of core resources that allows scientists to apply the latest microimaging techniques to their work.

The Center for Cell and Molecular Imaging and the Core Computing Facility for Bioinformatics and Image Analysis offer electron microscopy, electron cryomicroscopy, confocal microscopy and core computing facilities for data analysis and interpretation. “These technologies are too complicated and too expensive for any one faculty member or laboratory to manage on their own,” said Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs. “Core facilities offer access to specialists and to equipment costing anything from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.”

The upgraded facilities are the result of three years of planning that began in 1998, when Dean David A. Kessler, M.D., convened a committee to review the medical school’s plans for structural biology. The committee came to the realization that, “more and more, state-of-the-art medicine is dependent on knowing the structure of these molecules,” said Sigworth, one of its members. The school has since recruited faculty members with expertise in the new imaging technologies, upgraded existing hardware and purchased new equipment, such as additional electron microscopes, confocal microscopes, electron cryomicroscopes and a two-photon microscope. The new microscopes provide a variety of imaging possibilities for a broad array of specimens at a range of different resolutions.

An open house in late January officially inaugurated the new facilities. Vinzenz M. Unger, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, coordinates the electron cryomicroscopy laboratory and provides training for new users. Marc Pypaert, Ph.D., associate research scientist in cell biology, provides training and use of electron microscopes. Michael H. Nathanson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, is in charge of confocal microscopy. The bioinformatics facility, managed by Anne Marie Quinn, M.P.H. ’00, is a place where scientists and students can take data for analysis and interpretation or search for genomics data on the Internet. The next phase of the facility is an expanded X-ray crystallography laboratory at the medical school.