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David Bricker
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New IU center shines (several kinds of) light on life sciences research

July 16, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new Indiana University center specializing in scientific imagery has been open only a few weeks -- and has already acquired a $930,000 National Institutes of Health grant to expand its services. IU is one of only 20 institutions chosen this year to receive an NIH High-End Instrumentation Grant.

Arabidopsis microtubules

Photo by: J. Lucas, Sidney Shaw Lab

This image, created with a Leica scanning confocal microscope, shows the innards of several Arabidopsis thaliana cells. Each cell contains a vast network of microtubules that strengthens cells and allows them to transport important materials to and fro

Print-Quality Photo

The IU Light Microscopy Imaging Center (LMIC), based in Myers Hall on the IU Bloomington campus, currently offers seven different imaging systems. The NIH grant is helping IU purchase a new high-tech imager, which uses a rapidly moving robotic arm to take individual pictures of as many as 384 specimens on a single plate.

"The new microscope device opens up many new avenues for exploration," said Claire Walczak, executive director of the LMIC. "This microscope can hold multiple specimens at the same time, and it automates image capturing. It will be a terrific device for researchers in many different areas including medical sciences, biology, biocomplexity, vision sciences, and psychological and brain sciences."

Walczak is also a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in Medical Sciences Bloomington, a division of the IU School of Medicine.

The LMIC consolidates major existing instrumentation in a central facility and encourages the pursuit of technological advances. Sarita Soni, IU vice provost for research and professor of optometry, says the LMIC enhances data acquisition and analysis, offering unique advantages to IU researchers and to the university's overall research enterprise.

"By providing well-maintained instruments with hands-on training and education in imaging techniques, this center will enable scientists to acquire higher quality data more efficiently," Soni said. "New technologies and innovations will become common practice more quickly among the center's researchers. This facility will help keep our faculty at the cutting edge of life sciences research and enhance opportunities for collaboration."

The new center is supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR), the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Optometry, and the Medical Sciences Program Bloomington.

Despite major technological advances in all life science fields, detailed images continue to be of great help to scientists as they search for patterns and anomalies. Digital imaging equipment and software enable researchers to locate gene products within an organism and ask fundamental questions about the appearance and amount of those genetic products. Precise measurements allow scientists to understand the intimate details of what is happening as an egg develops, for example, or why a cell is growing uncontrollably in a tumor. Digital imaging technology is useful to all life scientists whether they are studying the way a virus enters a cell or how a multicellular organism is organized.

The LMIC houses a variety of microscopes equipped with digital cameras for viewing and imaging, data servers, prep space for experiments, and small incubators for cultured cells. The center is also a teaching laboratory where students, post-docs, and faculty members can learn about developments in light microscopy. A yearly graduate level course on imaging technology that includes hands-on training is being coordinated by LMIC Technical Director Sid Shaw, also an assistant professor of biology. Day-to-day operations are run by Facility Manager Jim Powers, with the assistance of staff from the Indiana Molecular Biology Institute, which currently provides facilities and resources for use by multiple researchers.

Karen Hanson, IU executive vice president and provost for the Bloomington campus, says the new center will benefit the campus widely.

"As the life sciences research community at IU Bloomington expands, the Light Microscopy Imaging Center will be an essential tool for a large number of our research laboratories," Hanson said. "The center is a wonderful example of collaboration among campus units in the sciences and information technology. It will dramatically improve basic research practices for our existing faculty and significantly improve our ability to recruit and retain new faculty."

The High-End Instrumentation Grant Program is administered by the National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The program supports the purchase of advanced instruments such as imaging systems, spectrometers, microscopes and supercomputers that can accelerate the rate at which researchers acquire, analyze, display and understand data.

To learn more about the services LMIC offers, please visit

For more information, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or