Nuts & Bolts

Antique Electron Microscope

This is an old Siemens electron microscope, originally manufactured in Germany in 1952, which functioned well in our laboratory until the late 1970s. Plagued with odd vacuum pump problems and antiquated radio tubes for controlling its lenses (and with buckets of carcinogenic oil slowly seeping from its gigantic high-voltage transformer tank), it finally had to be replaced with more modern electron microscopes such as the one shown below.

Modern Electron Microscope

This is a more modern JEOL 100cx electron microscope, originally manufactured in Japan in the late 1970s and still one of the best instruments around. More modern, digitally controlled microscopes are now available, but none have improved upon the electron optics achieved by this type of microscope. It magnifies to 300,000X, which is the magnification of all the images of molecules that will be found in our galleries.

The Cryopress

This is the quick-freezing machine that represents the heart of our laboratory. It was originally invented in collaboration with Dr. Thomas S. Reese of the NIH and improved in our laboratory over the past three decades. It is sometimes called a slammer because it vigorously drives a living biological sample against an ultrapure block of copper metal that has been cooled with liquid helium to 4 degrees above absolute zero (minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). (We prefer to call it the Cryopress.) Hundreds of these machines have been distributed to other laboratories around the world, but sadly, most researchers today can't afford to purchase the liquid helium needed to operate them. We remain one of a handful of laboratories doing high-resolution freeze-etch electron microscopy.

Vacuum Evaporator

This is the vacuum evaporator used to do freeze-etching in preparation for electron microscopy. It was manufactured by a precision machine company in Liechtenstein called Balzers, then extensively modified by us to do the freeze-etching. Inside this machine, in a high vacuum, the quick-frozen sample is first fractured open with a cryomicrotome, then allowed to partially freeze dry for a minute or so (our so-called deep-etching), then covered with a thin film of platinum that forms a replica of its fractured and etched surface. Only then is the biological sample allowed to thaw so that the replica can be collected, cleaned, and looked at in the electron microscope.