Electron Microscopy Lab Relocates

For nearly fifty years, the Benjamin Cluff Jr. Building has been home to the BYU Electron Microscopy Lab. With the announcement of a new Life Sciences building and subsequent razing of the Cluff, the microscopy facility has been relocated to the nearby Howard S. McDonald Building on the
Professor John Gardner preparing to use the TEM
Professor John Gardner, director of
the EM lab, prepares to use the TEM.
southeast end of campus. The new space, approximately one-quarter of the first floor, underwent a complete remodel to accommodate housing the sophisticated instruments. Walls were moved; electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning systems were updated; and, due to the extreme sensitivity of the microscopes, anti-vibration pads were installed.

Three electron microscopes make up the Electron Microscopy facility. The Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) is used mainly for biological research and teaching. The TEM transmits an electron beam through one-hundred-nanometer-thick slices of specimens to produce images of very small structures, such as those within cells. Viruses can be visualized separately or within the tissue where they are found.

The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) scans an electron beam across the surface of the sample to produce images that appear to be three-dimensional. Exceptional images of structures such as one-celled alga and plant pores are readily produced at low magnification. Nanostructures are easily seen at high magnifications.

An Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM) allows researchers to study live or minimally prepared samples. The ESEM is used by investigators from disciplines within the colleges of Life Sciences, Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. Because live, wet, and nonconductive specimens can be evaluated in the ESEM, it is possible to study live fungi and spores growing on agar.

The Focused Ion Beam (FIB) is another very sophisticated research instrument contained in the lab, and it too is used by faculty and students from a range of disciplines across campus. Like the SEM, it creates reconstructed computer images that look three-dimensional. But unlike the SEM, the FIB makes it possible to create a specimen surface within the instrument chamber. For example, kidney tissue can be cut under the beam so that a series of nerve or blood vessel images can be collected.

Dr. James Porter, associate dean of the College of Life Sciences, explains that some kinds of research cannot be done without these microscopes. “A lot of advances have been made because we have been able to look at very small things and learn more about their structures.” Dr. Porter says that in addition to being tremendously helpful to BYU’s faculty, the lab is a “great opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to learn how to use an electron microscope.”

The newly renovated Electron Microscope facility in the McDonald Building will continue to support investigators with these and many more procedures now and in the years to come.

McDonald Building
The EM lab is housed in the east (left) end of the basement of the McDonald Building.