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STFC technology to help open up access to revolutionary imaging technique

11 March 2020

The Science and Technology Facility Council’s (STFC) Technology department is working with the Rosalind Franklin Institute to develop multi-million-pound technology that will enable a more accessible form of electron cryo-microscopy.

Electron cryo-microscopy, also known as cryoEM, uses a beam of electrons to study the structure of biological samples at cryogenic temperatures

The project aims to develop a detector that can work at a much lower energy than the current industry standard to image biological samples at the atomic scale. The new detector, named C100, will produce better data at lower energies than existing detectors working with higher energy microscopes. CryoEM currently requires large and expensive technology, which is housed in highly specialist environments. Lowering the energy of the electrons enables the use of a simpler, and cheaper, electron gun.

The C100 detector will mean medical researchers and drug companies will be able to access quick, simple and reliable cryoEM, allowing a massive shift in the accessibility of this revolutionary technique.

The development project is part of a new initiative in collaboration with Nobel prize winner and cryoEM pioneer, Dr Richard Henderson and his colleague Dr Chris Russo, both from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in Cambridge.

Marcus French, Head of Detector and Electronics at STFC’s Technology Department said: 

“Working with Richard throughout his journey in pioneering the 300keV camera systems has been both exciting and rewarding.  Today we know that the C100 project is the key to a new cryo-EM platform that will unlock the technique to a much wider research community.  This will drive a step- change in the rate of scientific discovery in this dynamic field and so aligns perfectly with STFC’s ambition to maximise the societal impact of the UK’s national science programme.”

Dr Richard Henderson explained that making the technique accessible to more people increases the opportunities for new advances:

“Bringing down the barriers to access these microscopes means we can bring cryoEM to many, many more academics around the world so they can look at samples in more detail, try new approaches and improve our understanding of human diseases.”

STFC’s Technology department has significant expertise in the manufacture of advanced detector systems, including the development of new, innovative detector designs.  The detector team deliver imaging systems and have supplied new detectors to large-scale facilities such as the European XFEL, the Diamond Light Source and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  STFC commercialises the technology that it helps to develop wherever possible, to maximise the economic impact of the UK science programme.

The project is supported as a key component of the Structural Biology theme at The Rosalind Franklin Institute, funded through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Further information

The Rosalind Franklin Institute

The Rosalind Franklin Institute is a national institute dedicated to transforming life science through interdisciplinary research and technology development. The Institute will bring together researchers in life, physical science, and engineering, to develop disruptive new technologies designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences. Focussing initially on five major research themes, the Institute will have significant impact in imaging, diagnostics, drug development, and many more fields. 

The Franklin is funded through the UK Research and Innovation through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC. The Institute is an independent organisation founded by UK Research and Innovation, ten UK universities, and Diamond Light Source, and will have its central hub at the Harwell Campus.

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

The Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) is one of the world's leading research institutes.  Discoveries and inventions developed at the LMB, for example DNA sequencing and methods to determine the structure of proteins, have revolutionised all areas of biology.  Its scientists work to advance understanding of biological processes at the molecular level.  This information will help us to understand the workings of complex systems, such as the immune system and the brain, and solve key problems in human health.

Dr Chris Russo’s  paper

Dr Chris Russo’s Group

Dr Richard Henderson’s page

The STFC Centre for Instrumentation programme supports the design of advanced detectors for new imaging technologies.

Last updated: 11 March 2020


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