The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Imaging symposium kicks off new cross-campus convergence of materials and life sciences

At the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, speakers from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences' Microscopy Facility and the Materials Research Institute's Materials Characterization Lab (MCL) presented new imaging technologies and techniques that are spanning traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Dr. Tim Tighe of the Penn State Materials Characterization Lab discusses a myriad of atomic force microscopy applications.
Credit: Markus Kastner, Penn State.


The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Materials Characterization Lab (MCL) share space in the basement of the Millennium Science Complex and are increasingly finding ways to enable each other’s work with their microscopy and analytical technology, and to use the combined expertise of the two facilities’ staff to create synergies.

Some life scientists have found their way to MCL to obtain images that combine fine structure with spatially resolved material composition or physical properties. Likewise, materials scientists studying soft materials (e.g., polymers, nanoparticles) and bioengineers examining the movement of nanoparticles or fluorescent molecules within live cells can make use of new instruments in the Huck Institutes’ Microscopy Facility.

To accelerate discovery of these technologies by Penn State researchers, the Huck Institutes and the Materials Characterization Lab are embarking on a program called Common Vision, which will be formally announced in January.

“The Common Vision initiative,” said Josh Stapleton, MCL operations manager, “is essentially an attempt to raise awareness within the life sciences community about instruments that would not traditionally be classified as having life sciences applications, and so the initiative is meant to prioritize and resource strategic outreach from the materials sciences to the life sciences. We’re really trying to expose life sciences researchers to new analytical techniques where materials scientists have instruments and expertise that may provide novel solutions to the challenges that the life sciences community is trying to tackle.”

To kick off this initiative, the directors of the Huck Institutes’ Microscopy Facility and the Materials Characterization Lab, along with representatives of their staff, traveled to the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, on November 4, 2016, to present imaging technologies and techniques including focused ion beam imaging (FIB), Raman spectroscopy, atomic-force microscopy (AFM), time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS), and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), as well as various scanning and transmission electron microscopy (S/TEM) techniques. Huck Institutes staff discussed applications of new serial block face SEM imaging and super-resolution light microscopy instruments. Over 65 Penn State faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows attended the symposium, where the mood was generally excited and energized, and which generated a number of new inquiries about imaging capabilities and possibilities for collaboration.

“This symposium, which was a success,” said Keith Cheng, one of the symposium’s organizers at the College of Medicine, “was the first of three that we hope to have in the next year, toward facilitating collaborative activities between Hershey and University Park. Susan Hafenstein and I thought that being informed in Hershey about capabilities available at University Park would be a great way to bring people together, so we plan to also hold four retreats over the next two years, alternating hosting between the campuses.”

According to Huck Institutes Associate Director Jim Marden, "We've been putting our heads together with the Materials Research Institute and the MCL for over a year, exploring ways we can break down some traditional cultural barriers between our fields, converge our science and methods, and make a unique and world-class microscopy facility. We've already done some big things together, like the planning, design, and siting of the new cryo-electron microscope that will arrive in 2017, but this initiative is our first coordinated activity that interfaces directly with researchers. We're very excited to see what kind of projects and novel findings will arise."

More detailed information about Common Vision and a second symposium at University Park will be forthcoming in early 2017.