Housed in the basement of McDonnell hall, the facility was purpose-built from the beginning to house microscopes, providing unparalleled vibration-free dedicated rooms along with a large wet lab for sample processing on site. In addition, two rooms house workstations with full offline versions of the software used on the microscopes available free of charge for image analysis. Most of the rooms are large enough to accommodate groups of 10 to 15 individuals.
The original imaging facility was housed in the basement of Monsanto Hall and was a dedicated Electron Microscope (EM) facility. It consisted of a Hitachi H-600 Transmission Electron Microscope and a Hitachi S-570 Scanning Electron Microscope. All images were recorded on 3 by 5 inch flat films and so the facility also housed a dedicated darkroom for developing the film as well as a full service photographic darkroom. In 1991 the facility was moved to its present location in the newly built McDonnell Hall.
By the mid 1980s fluorescence microscopy was gaining ground as a major biological imaging technique and so the first fluorescent microscope – a Zeiss Axiomat – was installed in the late 1980s. It had three filter cubes for Blue, Green and Red dyes as well as Differential Interference Contrast imaging. The instrument was designed to be modular — it could be reconfigured to be either upright or inverted! (I never actually saw it in an upright configuration — I think the reconfiguration was too complex and difficult to realign). The Axiomat images were also recorded on film; in this case 35 mm roll film.
By the 1990s film was being replaced by the much more versatile digital imaging format. In addition, deconvolution and confocal imaging were becoming the standard for clear in-focus fluorescent imaging. Consequently the first digital format microscope was installed in the early 1990s and consisted of an Olympus inverted fluorescent microscope run by Sadat style deconvolution software to provide the first deblurred Z stack images. In 2001 the department acquired its first single photon confocal microscope; the Leica Sp2 AOTF, which served the department until 2016.
The Biology Imaging facility was run for over 30 years by George Michael Veith, who retired in 2008. Mike was a great guy; hard-working, affable, and really fun to work with. He was my first real colleague at Washington University where I had come to pursue graduate studies, and I spent several years with my nose buried in the oculars of the TEM under his able tutelage. Plant biologist Olga Pontes took on the facility operations upon Mike’s retirement, and oversaw the installation of two new microscopes; the Deltavision deconvolution microscope and our second confocal microscope, the Nikon A1Si. Olga moved on to a faculty position in New Mexico in 2011, when I was asked to take on the job. My first acquisition was a new brightfield stereomicroscope, the Leica S8Apo, fulfilling the need for a good workhorse stereomicroscope for imaging of samples too large to fit on a compound microscope. In 2016 we were fortunate to acquire a new SEM with the ability to image samples in reduced vacuum, coming full circle back to our roots as an EM facility. As we now move on to a new decade, the facility has acquired four new Leica fluorescence instruments, putting our facility at the cutting edge of image analysis. I feel very privileged indeed to be the caretaker of such a wonderfully equipped Core!