HHMI and GBMF announce the establishment of an Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia that will make leading-edge imaging technologies more widely available to the scientific community before the instruments are available commercially.


  • New leading-edge imaging technologies are having a big impact on science.
  • The size of these instruments and the technical expertise needed to run and maintain them make such instruments difficult to share.
  • HHMI and GBMF are creating a new program that will make five imaging technologies developed at Janelia available to the scientific community before they can be purchased commercially.

High-speed imaging with the Bessel beam plane illumination microscope reveals the ever-changing surface of a HeLa cell, with long, thin projections called filopodia continually extending and retracting. This instrument is one of five technologies that will be made available through the new Advanced Imaging Center at Janelia.
Video: Laboratory of Eric Betzig/Janelia Research Campus

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) today announced the establishment of an Advanced Imaging Center at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus that will make leading-edge imaging technologies more widely available to the scientific community before the instruments are available commercially.

With total startup funds of $4.9 million over the first two years, the new center aims to make an immediate impact by solving a problem facing the life sciences, which are becoming increasingly technology-intensive. “It can take between five and 10 years for new imaging technology to be available to scientists commercially,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “We want more of the scientific community to have access to the revolutionary imaging methods and instruments being developed at Janelia. These tools are critical to advancing science, but they are not easy to share. They are expensive to build and maintain and they do not travel well.”

The nature of optical imaging instrumentation requires a different approach to distribution. These types of instruments are not devices an average laboratory is able to operate. In the longer term, a company may enter into a license to build the new tool for sale to researchers, but it may be several years before a new microscope is available for purchase.

The solution? Keep the instruments where they were built and where the expertise and facilities to run and maintain them resides. Instead, focus efforts on developing ways to bring scientists to the technology. The Advanced Imaging Center (AIC), which will be operational in Summer 2014, will provide broader access to five advanced optical microscopes that will be housed in specially designed space at Janelia.

Each of these microscopes provides unique capabilities that are not yet widely available to the general scientific community:

  • interferometric photoactivated localization microscope (iPALM), a super-resolution microscope developed by Janelia lab head Harald Hess. Scientists can use iPALM to pinpoint fluorescent labels in their images to within 10-20 nanometers—about ten times the size of an average protein—in all three dimensions. iPALM has been used to reveal how biomolecules organize themselves into the structures and signaling complexes that drive cellular functions.
  • Single-molecule total internal reflection fluorescence (sm-TIRF) microscope was designed and constructed at Janelia by the research teams of HHMI President Robert Tjian and physicist Steven Chu, a Nobel Laureate who is now at Stanford University. The microscope is used for in vitro imaging of complex biochemical reactions, such as RNA transcription, DNA replication, DNA repair, RNA splicing, etc.
  • Aberration-corrected multifocus microscope (acMFM) was designed and built at Janelia by the research team of the late Mats Gustafsson, who was a lab head at Janelia. Using this technology, researchers can simultaneously image multiple focal planes, for example, to track single molecules inside live cells.
  • Lattice light sheet microscope was invented at Janelia by the research team of Eric Betzig, a lab head at Janelia. It uses a thin sheet of patterned light to peer inside single living cells, revealing the three-dimensional shapes of cellular landmarks in unprecedented detail. The microscope images at high speed, so researchers can create dazzling movies that make biological processes, such as cell division, come alive.
  • Live cell multicolor structured illumination microscope (3D-SIM) was also developed by Mats Gustafsson. Through interference patterns generated when grated light illuminates fine biological structures, the SIM system is capable of delivering resolution at 110 nanometers. What sets the 3D-SIM at AIC apart from commercial systems, however, is its speed at six optical sections/microns/second, making this 3D-SIM system perfectly suited for live-cell applications.

The new collaboration is HHMI’s second major partnership with GBMF. In 2010, HHMI and GBMF joined forces to develop a 5-year, $75 million basic plant science research program.

“At Moore, our Science Program looks for ways to help catalyze new discoveries, including supporting the development of advanced imaging technologies” said Paul Gray, interim president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “Providing top life science researchers with access to these advanced microscopes designed by Janelia Farm researchers will enable exciting scientific breakthroughs—including some we may not even be able to imagine yet.”

When HHMI opened the Janelia Research Campus in 2006, one of its two broad research objectives was to improve optical, biological, and computational technologies for creating and interpreting biological images. At Janelia, HHMI spends approximately $15 million each year in support of this objective and employs some of the leading optical physicists in the world who are developing new optical microscopy methods for biological applications. Janelia also has excellent computational and instrument fabrication resources to support these efforts.

Gerald Rubin, executive director of Janelia, envisions the AIC as a dynamic environment where access to different instruments is cycled over time. “As new instruments are developed at Janelia and reach the stage of first scientific publication, copies of those instruments could then be fabricated and made available to visiting scientists to promote access and exploration of application space,” he says. “As instruments become widely available through other means, such as commercialization, or become less useful due to other advances, they would be “retired” from the AIC.”

In order to provide expert capability to support new users of these highly technical microscopes, the AIC is staffed by PhD-level scientists with significant experience in the development and application of imaging systems in biology. The initial two-year plan includes recruitment of three staff members, as well as AIC director Teng-Leong Chew, who provides leadership for the group.

Scientists who are interested in doing research at the AIC will be required to submit a brief application in response to the AIC’s “call for proposals,” which will occur several times a year. Once submitted, proposals will be evaluated based on scientific merit during a two-tier review process by AIC/Janelia scientists and by a review panel of scientists from HHMI/Janelia, GBMF and extramural imaging experts. Scientists whose proposals are selected will travel to Janelia to use the facility and accommodations will be arranged through the Janelia Visitor Program. Further details about the program and application process are on the Janelia web site.


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. Follow @HHMINEWS

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation believes in bold ideas that create enduring impact in the areas of science, environmental conservation and patient care. Intel co-founder Gordon and his wife Betty established the foundation to create positive change around the world and at home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Science looks for opportunities to transform–or even create–entire fields by investing in early- stage research, emerging fields and top research scientists. Follow @MooreScientific

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