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Keck Foundation Grant Brings Confocal Microscope and 3-D Rendering to California State University East Bay

  • August 9, 2012

The College of Science at Cal State East Bay is preparing for the installation of a confocal laser scanning microscope, made possible by a grant from the W.M.Keck Foundation.

The advanced instrument, which uses multiple targeted light sources to create high resolution images that can be built into three-dimensional models, will be installed and ready for students to begin using in the Fall 2012 quarter.

"This grant is making a major contribution to our efforts to upgrade instrumentation capabilities," said Dean Michael Leung of the College of Science."The confocal microscope will greatly enhance our ability to instruct students in the use of modern instruments and to facilitate faculty research."

The Keck Foundation's support for undergraduate education emphasizes inventive instruction and active engagement of students in research projects.The grant was awarded to James Murray, Carol Lauzon and Maria Gallegos of the Department of Biological Sciences, covering the purchase and setup of the microscope as well as training for faculty and lab assistants on its operation.

"This modern instrument will empower our students to investigate research questions that were previously out of reach or difficult to pursue," Murray said."It will also teach them about digital imaging and help them explore the three-dimensional arrangements within real cells, and allow them to create high-quality images that will be published in top research journals."

With a confocal microscope, researchers can produce clear images from several layers of a specimen or tissue sample, compared to traditional microscopes that require extremely thin slices of tissue to reveal detail or show only the surface of thicker samples.

The images can then be processed through computer programs to generate 3-D renderings and videos, which Murray said are easier to interpret than flat two-dimensional images, especially for students who are still gaining an understanding of cell and subcellular biology.

"Using this technology we can label specific types of cells and biochemicals," Murray explained, "and calculate how a specific protein is correlated with a specific cell type.These structural details are what differ between healthy and diseased tissue."

Currently, the only confocal microscope available for faculty and student use is more than an hour away and must be reserved well in advance.This has limited opportunities for collaboration with students and reduced the amount of projects faculty can undertake.

With this equipment now permanently at the Hayward campus, faculty in the sciences will have access to tools that can improve student outcomes, curriculum development and research.

The microscope will be incorporated into 11 existing undergraduate courses in biology, physics and chemistry, as well as a new laboratory course, Visual Analysis of Cellular Structure, that will launch in 2013. Images and videos generated by the microscope can also be included in introductory courses to help illustrate cell structure, development and reactions.

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