High-tech microscope boosts research at Gettysburg College

Heston Summer Experience

Members of the Gettysburg College faculty recognize that technology has jumped by leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. To enable their colleagues and students to utilize top-notch technology for research and teaching on campus, they worked to acquire a new microscope.

"Advancements in microscopy tools go hand in hand with new discoveries in biology," said prof. Matt Kittelberger. "Limited access to such tools for students cuts out a huge area of modern biology."

Kittelberger, a neurobiologist whose research focuses on mechanisms in the brain that regulate social behavior, needed a tool to show him precisely where chemicals occur in the brain. The fluorescent imaging capabilities of an epifluorescence microscope would allow him to do that in addition to exposing his students to a vital area of biology.

Brain tissue as viewed through the new microscopeLast year, Kittelberger teamed up with colleagues in the biology, chemistry, health sciences, and psychology departments to obtain funding for such a microscope. Their commitment paid off when the College received a $159,756 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to purchase a computerized epifluorescence microscope with advanced digital imaging and analysis tools.

Once the microscope arrived on campus, Kittelberger was able to involve his students in his current research, which explores the connection between dopamine in the brain and vocalization, specifically in fish. Examining the brain circuits of fish allows Kittelberger to answer questions related to how neural circuits have evolved and how they may operate in humans.

The new microscope made it possible for Kittelberger and his students to determine the location of dopamine in the brains of these fish, and also to determine the location of drugs they injected to perturb dopamine function (pictured in an image from the microscope above). This allowed them to link dopamine production and vocalization.

Alex Allen '11"There is so much that you have to think about when working with the microscope," said senior Alex Allen (pictured at right), a Warminster, PA native with a biology major and neuroscience minor who worked with Kittelberger on the dopamine study. "Once it all comes together and you consider what you are looking at, it is really neat."

While the potential uses of the epifluorescence microscope for Kittelberger and his students alone are significant, the benefits for other professors and students are also clear.

Prof. Ralph Sorensen used the microscope to create a new opportunity for students in his developmental biology class. His students were able to observe a structure called P granules in the early embryonic cells of a nematode worm that determine which cells become the egg and sperm cells of the adult worm. This afforded the students an opportunity to see for themselves early developmental events they could previously only read about.

The microscope also has great potential for interdisciplinary use. Chemistry Prof. Shelli Frey plans to work with her research students to study how cell membranes are organized and how materials interact with the membrane.

"The acquisition of this epifluorescence microscope is great for my research program because it gives me another tool in my arsenal to ask and answer questions about the way materials ranging from nanoparticles to Huntington's disease proteins interact with the cell membrane," said Frey.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Thu, 6 Jan 2011

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