Cryo-EM Research Center Continues to Take Shape with Map of Microscope Locations

Construction is well underway in the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Complex for the UW–Madison Cryo-EM Research Facility, which will house four microscopes and other equipment in two buildings. The facility will house the powerful Titan Krios 300 kV transmission electron microscope (TEM). In the same building, a smaller 120 kV TEM will be located in the Biochemistry Optical Core (BOC) and Biophysical Instrumentation Facility (BIF) nearby.

“We thought about the value to the research community of bridging between the light microscopy and the biophysics resources of the BIF and BOC with the electron microscopy the cryo-EM facility,” Wright says. “It is important to bring researchers together to foster new ideas and collaborations, our having a microscope in BIF and BOC resource can be that nucleating factor.”

In the basement of the historic Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Building, the facility will have two more microscopes — a Talos Arctica 200 kV TEM and an Aquilos cryo-FIB-SEM — specimen prep equipment, and lab space for UW–Madison investigators, external collaborators and industry partners. The construction on phase two began in July 2019.

Construction and installation is complex because the rooms need temperature and humidity control and sophisticated shielding to make sure the microscopes are vibrationally isolated. Vibrations from nearby passing trains or elevators, as well as magnetic fields from other research equipment, can all interfere with the microscopes.

Even without the facilities open, the group has been spreading the word about cryo-EM, hiring new faculty who will utilize the facility, laying the groundwork for collaborations, and gathering preliminary data at other facilities. For example, they have started work with bacteriology professor Katrina Forest on altered bacterial membrane architecture, with bacteriology and biochemistry professor Bob Landick on transcription complexes, and with researchers at the School of Medicine and Public Health to develop vaccine candidates for different viruses. Another project involves scientists at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

“It has been exciting to put together this team and we are thrilled to see it continue to grow,” Wright says. “When establishing a great cryo-EM community, it is important to recruit individuals with strengths in different biological areas, such as bacteriology, cell biology, and virology, combined with an interest in computation and technology development, so we can push the boundaries of the field at UW–Madison.”