SJU Receives $413,000 Grant to Enhance Microscopy

Thursday, August 28, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (August 26, 2008) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $413,000 grant to Saint Joseph’s University to fund the purchase of a laser scanning confocal microscope and live cell observation chamber. The microscope will be used for faculty research and the research training of biology master’s students, and undergraduate students in biology and physics.

“Saint Joseph’s has offered exceptionally good microscopy training to undergraduate students for many years, and this equipment will build on that tradition,” said Karen Snetselaar, Ph.D., chair and professor of biology, who is principal investigator of the grant.

“It will also strengthen our focus on interdisciplinary research and teaching efforts between the biology and physics departments, which is especially significant to Saint Joseph’s, given our current initiative to develop a biophysics emphasis,” she added.

Confocal microscopy increases the ability to visualize thick specimens by eliminating out-of-focus or blurry information that is a by-product of standard wide-field fluorescence microscopes, which flood the entire specimen in light. This “flood-light” illumination creates a large amount of visual “static” that can obscure important information. A confocal microscope uses a pinhole and precise point illumination (laser) that removes the extraneous information, and then digitally scans the specimen to reveal a much sharper, hyper-focused image of the molecular material. A computer then creates a 3-D image of the specimen.

The faculty members in biology and physics whose research will benefit from the NSF award are addressing a wide range of topics, including, among others, properties of glass-forming liquids Piotr Habdas, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics and co-principal investigator; the role of cytoskeletal proteins in intracellular motility and cell shape Christina King Smith, Ph.D., professor of biology and co-principal investigator; and the mechanism of plant-fungal interactions Snetselaar.

According to William Madges, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the acquisition of the new microscope complements initiatives of the $1 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant awarded to SJU in April 2008, which provided funding for a tenure-track faculty position in biophysics. This NSF grant also builds on two previous grants from the Foundation for microscopy equipment awarded to Saint Joseph’s over the last 10 years.

“Our goal is to integrate biology and physics education, so that students with an interest in interdisciplinary biophysical research will benefit from the deepening collaboration of the two departments,” said Madges. “We anticipate that the confocal microscope will attract high-quality applicants for the approved biophysics faculty position, which will provide the means to develop new courses with an emphasis in biophysics and biomechanics.”

Madges added that because Saint Joseph’s is committed to the faculty-student research model, the NSF grant will create more opportunities for students to do meaningful, collaborative research with faculty in this burgeoning scientific field.

Snetselaar also noted that the enhancement of imaging technology in the natural sciences supports the University’s mission.

“As a Jesuit university, Saint Joseph’s seeks to instill an understanding of social justice issues that promotes constructive action on the part of our students,” she said. “Each year, talented research students bring hands-on science to underserved children through NSF GK-12 funded activities, like our GeoKids LINKS program. The confocal microscope will help us train our student-scientists in current techniques, and it will give them experience in how to share this knowledge with as wide and deserving an audience as possible.”

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240,

Expand this section