It's called the cryo-electron microscope, or cryo-EM.
So powerful is the cryo-EM that at maximum one-million-time magnification power, it could, proportionally speaking, make a dime appear nearly 12 miles wide. By comparison, a common store-bought microscope with 1,000-time magnification would make that same coin appear a mere 62.5 feet across.
So sensitive is the microscope that it requires its own specially designed room shielding it from noise and electronic or magnetic interference. The slightest vibration a passing car, an electrical power surge can corrupt its highly magnified pictures, which are vacuum-suspended and, to prevent distortion, frozen at minus 182 Celsius, or 295.6 below zero Fahrenheit.
And so rare is this latest model of the cryo-EM microscope that only one other exists in the United States (at an IBM facility in Vermont); three are in Japan, where UT Southwestern's cryo-EM was constructed. Earlier models can be found at a handful of U.S. universities, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
The complete cryo-EM system, roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, took years to design, cost $1.6 million and took 18 months to build. It went into operation Aug. 14 after a three-and-a-half-month installation.
What cryo-EM brings to UT Southwestern is an unprecedented opportunity for scientific exploration in such areas as basic cell biology, cellular aging and death, Alzheimer's disease, spinal-cord injuries, cancer, diabetes, obesity and cholesterol metabolism.
Specifically, scientists can learn how viruses like herpes simplex virus type I (which causes cold sores) infect cells, as well as continue their detailed study of the human genome.
"This is a state-of-the-art instrument that will dramatically expand the electron microscope capabilities on our campus," said Dr.
Contact: Scott Maier
UT Southwestern Medical Center