Appalachian State University Win $500K Grant to Buy State of the Art TEM-STEM

Appalachian State University's William C. and Ruth Ann Dewel Microscopy Facility has received a $509,620 award from the National Science Foundation to purchase a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope/scanning transmission electron microscope (TEM/STEM).

The new microscope will replace an aging TEM that uses film to capture images.

Dr. Guichuan Hou, director of the microscopy facility, says the new microscope will capture high-resolution digital images of samples as minute as mitochondria, enzyme proteins and the microtubules in cells. "The microscope will be used to facilitate collaborative research across academic disciplines as well as introduce students to techniques used in microscopy research," he said.

The new equipment should be in operation by spring semester 2010. It will be used primarily by faculty and students from the departments of biology, chemistry, geology, and physics and astronomy. It will also be available for use by researchers from other academic institutions in western North Carolina.

Hou co-wrote the grant with three faculty members from the Department of Biology: Professor Howard Neufeld, Assistant Professor Nathan Mowa and Assistant Professor Sue Edwards. Professor Phil Russell from the Department of Physics and Astronomy is also a co-principle investigator of the grant proposal.

Neufeld will use the microscope to learn if photosynthesis in plant stems differs from that occurring in plant leaves. The high-level magnification of the microscope will enable Neufeld to compare the chloroplasts in the green stem of plants with their leaves. "It's possible that photosynthesis is being regulated in a different way in the stems, but no one has really studied that," Neufeld said.

Mowa is studying the role of sex steroid hormones, particularly estrogen, in rodents. The TEM will facilitate the study of rodents' micro vascular structure.

Edwards will use the TEM/STEM to expand her research of primitive vertebrates, hagfish and lamprey. She has been using light microscopy and fluorescence microscopy to isolate ion transporters in the cells of the fishes' gills. The TEM/STEM will allow her to look at these transporters at the ultrastructural level to better understand how they move salts and waste products in and out of the fish.

"Hagfish are the oldest vertebrates on the planet. They feed on dead and dying material lying on the sea bed. This research will help us understand how they survive in the extreme conditions they often encounter," Edwards said.

Russell's research focuses on nanoscience and nanotechnology applications in the development of solid-state lighting, and photovoltaic materials and devices, such as solar cells.

"We have had to travel to Oak Ridge, Tenn., or Raleigh when we wanted to use this type of machine, which also usually involved a two night stay," Russell said. "Acquiring the new microscope means students can be involved with us on this research, and we will be able to have a lot more student involvement in TEM-based research."

Russell said the TEM/STEM microscope allows researchers to conduct nanometer-scale markings of properties, such as chemical mapping in addition to imaging materials or samples.

Hou said that he had received strong support during the proposal preparation from the dean's office in the College of Arts and Sciences and from other professors who will use the new microscope in their research, including Suzanna Bräuer and Annkatrin Rose, both assistant professors from the Department of Biology, Nicole Bennett, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, Professor Richard Abbott, Assistant Professor Sarah Carmichael and Cynthia Luitkus from the Department of Geology, and assistant professor Donovan Leonard from Department of Physics and Astronomy.

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