Microscope Grant Expands Research in Engineering

DNA damage, identified as green spots in sections through a human cell nucleus, is produced by clinical doses of radiation. Using this technique, the repair of the DNA damage can be determined by the disappearance of the green spots over time. Source: Northern Illinois University

A microscope that has the capability of capturing multiple two-dimensional images at different depths and allows users to convert images into three-dimensional high-resolution images might not be the first piece of equipment one might expect an engineering college to utilize, but there are numerous academic and research benefits, said Dean Donald Peterson, Ph.D., of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET).

The super microscope allows scientists to examine delicate live tissue samples in a method referred to as “gentle imaging” that protects the live samples from being damaged in the process of examination.

Dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Donald Peterson. Source: Northern Illinois University

Peterson, is co-Primary Investigator along with Biological Sciences Professor Linda Yasui. In addition, several other faculty at CEET and within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) are making plans for extensive research opportunities that the cutting-edge microscope will offer. The equipment will be purchased with a $250,000 award from the National Science Foundation‘s Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant program. With the funds, NIU will purchase the Airyscan 2 Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope (CLSM) to expand academic programs and research in biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, as well as engineering. The grant award, a result of a collaborative effort between two of NIU’s colleges, significantly elevates research resources to state-of-the-art level and beyond by supporting a wider array of research missions aimed towards understanding life processes.

In the area of biomedical engineering research, Peterson’s biodynamics lab will apply his design of parallel plate flow chamber systems that are used to study the genetic and metabolic responses of bone and endothelial cells when exposed to controlled fluid shear stresses. He hopes his research will lead to the prevention of potentially fatal aneurysm ruptures, by studying how blood vessel walls react in response to various conditions and stresses.

In addition to Peterson’s research other engineering faculty including John Shelton, Ph.D., Mohammad Moghimi, Ph.D. and Venumadhav Korampally, Ph.D. plan to use the microscope to train the next generation of engineers in modern, cutting-edge microscopy techniques to further biomedical studies in regenerative medicine, stem cell and cancer cell research, drug discovery and design research.

“The opportunities for our students and faculty to expand research is very exciting,” said Peterson. “The equipment will help us expand our research in the biomedical engineering area and several other engineering disciplines as well. We are thrilled that we were able to participate in an inter-college effort to benefit our students and faculty.”

The CLSM will be used by 23 faculty members within the CEET and the CLAS, spanning several different disciplines. The new influx of technology brings with it the potential for convergent research between biology, chemistry, physics and engineering that will bring expansive knowledge to bear on challenging research questions with potentially high payoffs.


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