George Fox's confocal microscope purchase puts school's science programs in elite company

Confocal microscope at George FoxInstitution is only Christian college on the West Coast with Leica Microsystems' state-of-the-art instrument

This June George Fox University's Department of Biology and Chemistry added a new state-of-the-art confocal microscope engineered and manufactured by Leica Microsystems in Germany. It typically costs approximately $180,000, and thanks in part to a start-up grant from Leica and university funds, the university made the purchase, giving George Fox the distinction of being the only private Christian college on the West Coast to have such an instrument.

Confocal microscopy represents a type of microscopy that leverages laser physics to provide high-resolution data to uncover the relationships of molecules within a sample. The confocal microscope exhibits a relatively new type of microscopy compared to traditional electron or brightfield microscopes because it can be used to image living cells, tissues, organs, systems and entire organisms.

Leica is the world leader in confocal microscopy systems and is revolutionizing the field of biology by manufacturing instruments that allow scientists to see individual molecules of DNA, RNA or protein among other molecules inside of living systems. George Fox's instrument is mounted on a unique table to eliminate vibration and uses four solid-state lasers to visualize molecules. It can be fully automated to view multiple samples through a computer interface.

The new microscope is also highly versatile in that it will allow faculty and students to make comparisons of specific genes, proteins and other molecules in living and developing biological systems in four dimensions, including time. In contrast, traditional microscopy does not typically allow for imaging specific molecules inside of developing cells, organs or systems. This level of sophistication will allow students to measure molecular changes and construct them into 3D images and study them over time.

Faculty members are already planning cutting-edge research experiments and teaching laboratories. For example, biology professor Jim Smart will be able to examine unique genes and proteins in the developing brain. Additionally, biology professor John Schmitt (pictured with a student, above) plans to detect and measure specific types of proteins that are causing living cancer cells to grow and spread.