Kohorn Wins $289,089 NSF Grant for Purchase of Confocal Microscope

Story posted June 27, 2002

Bruce D. Kohorn, professor of biology and biochemistry at Bowdoin College, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant totaling $289,089 for the purchase of a confocal laser scanning microscope. The grant is funded through the NSF's Major Research Instrumentation Program.

The microscope, which has been purchased and will arrive in the fall, will be the only such instrument in Maine at a liberal arts undergraduate institution.

"We're very excited to be able to acquire a confocal laser scanning microscope at Bowdoin," said Kohorn. "Students using the instrument in research labs will be exposed to current and standard technologies they'll need for more advanced degree programs. This work will prepare them for careers in biology and related fields by providing the technical and theoretical background for one of the most common methods of imaging in cell and molecular biology."

The instrument will also be used in major research projects by Bowdoin faculty.

A confocal laser scanning microscope provides the ability to obtain high resolution fluorescent images from both live and fixed biological samples. The instrument will be used to explore fundamental questions in neurobiology and behavior, plant development, nuclear protein transport, evolutionary genetics, and biomechanics.

Seven Bowdoin faculty and their students from the biology and psychology departments, and two members of the Bates and Colby faculties, will use the microscope.

Bruce Kohorn joined the Bowdoin biology faculty as a professor in 2001, following 14 years as a professor of botany at Duke University. He earned his B.A. in botany from the University of Vermont and Ph.D. in biology from Yale University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA.

Confocal Microscopy
Conventional fluorescence microscopy captures light from multiple levels within a specimen, and hence the image is often of relatively low resolution or too complicated to provide the appropriate information. Confocal microscopy permits the observer to collect only a single plane of emitted light, such that the recovered information is far more informative and clear.

The emitted light is created by stimulation and fluorescence within the sample. The objects fluorescing include those compounds such as cell walls that inherently are excited by light, and introduced fluorescent tags such as antibodies or gene fusions with naturally fluorescent proteins. The excitation light source is scanned across the sample and the emission light is collected and then recorded electronically and processed by imaging software to produce a two- or three-dimensional image. The microscope can simultaneously detect multiple different emission from tissue, allowing the localization of multiple fluorescent objects with ease and high resolution. Confocal microscopy is highly sensitive since fluorescence is often bleached over time, and hence the faster collection of light permits the detection of fading, faint signals.

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