Mats G.L. Gustafsson, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, passed away Sunday, April 17, after a battle with brain cancer. He is survived by his wife, Julie Sohl, and children, Eva and Sten.
A leader in the field of structured illumination light microscopy, Gustafsson was known for developing methods that let scientists examine cells in greater detail and with greater clarity. While at the University of California, San Francisco, he developed one of the first methods of light microscopy that can distinguish objects separated by less that 200-nanometers – about one-500th of the width of a human hair. That distance, which is about half the wave-length of light, had long been thought to be the best resolution a light microscope could achieve. Gustafsson’s structured illumination microscopy overcomes that limit by taking advantage of moiré patterns, which are produced by overlaying one pattern with another.
At UCSF, Gustafsson used structured illumination microscopy to visualize the molecular scaffolding that holds the shape of cells. With some adaptations, his team improved the technique’s resolution to about 100 nanometers – about 500 times smaller than the average diameter of a cell -- and introduced three-dimensional structured illumination microscopy, which made it became possible to see parts of cells that go undetected using most light microscopes. Soon after arriving at Janelia Farm in 2008, Gustafsson further adapted the technique so it could be used in living cells. The new technology captures up to 11 images per second, enabling researchers to produce short videos of fast-moving biological processes.
Gustafsson was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, the Optical Imaging Association Award for Achievement in Optical Microscopy, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s Fellowship for Science and Engineering.