See Inside December 2006

Looking Better

Advanced light microscopy for the research masses

Sitting by his laptop on the Mission Bay campus, Orion Weiner of the University of California, San Francisco, is watching a movie of an immune cell called a neutrophil scurrying across his computer screen. The movie, made with a conventional optical microscope, reveals that a fuzzy vanguard of proteins is driving the neutrophil. But when he opens a second movie file of the motion, this one made with a more advanced light microscopy technique called total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF), the vanguard no longer appears as one solid front of proteins but rather as a wave of individual proteins pushing forward like ripples from a pebble in a pond.

Weiner never expected to find this robust wave motion, and until recently, he would not have been able to visually capture it using a light microscope. And even now that the technology to do so exists, such advanced tools are typically limited to the very fortunate and few. At U.C.S.F., there is a plan to change that.

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