Randolph-Macon College has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation
(NSF). The grant, which will be used to purchase a transmission electron microscope
(TEM), was secured by Biology Professor James Foster. The grant is under the direction
of Foster as well as Biology Professors Grace
Lim-Fong, Wallace Martin, Melanie Gubbels Bupp and
Psychology Professor Kelly Lambert.
TEMs are capable of imaging at a significantly higher resolution than light microscopes.
“You may recall from biology classes when you learned about cells – the images of
a ‘typical’ cell with darkly stained membranes, the big, grainy nucleus and the
slipper-shaped mitochondrion,” explains Foster. “Those images were taken by a TEM.
It is most useful for observing cell organelles and other sub-cellular structures.”
The grant will allow R-MC professors and their students to collaborate on research
projects involving cell ultrastructure.
“We already have standard fluorescence microscopes and an NSF-funded confocal microscope,
so our microscopy instrumentation is outstanding for a liberal arts college,” says
Foster. “Our students will learn how to use these instruments and that experience
is an invaluable part of their education.”
Among other things, the TEM will be used to evaluate the following: the structure
of synapses during adaptive stress responses; the formation of tail and head structures
of sperm; cell structure of new species of fungi; the location of symbiotic bacteria
in marine animals; and the maintenance and turnover of mitochondria to evaluate
the effects of calorie restriction in mice.
“The TEM differs from the confocal microscope in several ways,” explains Foster.
“Confocal microscopy uses fluorescently tagged molecules to see proteins and cellular
structures, but it cannot distinguish fine subcellular details like membranes or
the parts of a flagellum or a mitochondrion. TEM provides high-resolution details
of these structures, and recent advances in digital photography allow amazing images
to be captured with relative ease.”
The scope will be available for collaborations with researchers at R-MC and other
“In addition to looking at cells, TEM is useful for materials science and can be
used for analyzing macromolecules,” says Foster. “Like all our instruments, the
TEM will be available to any student doing a research project and it will certainly
contribute to the preparation of students in biomedical areas such as veterinary
school, or research careers.”
Foster also plans to work with students at local schools who will visit R-MC to
learn about the TEM. The “Learning Cell Structure by Doing Transmission Electron
Microscopy” project aims to get young students interested in biology through a fun,
“This is an exciting project,” says Foster. “The plan is to recruit R-MC students
to mentor younger students in order to get them excited about science. The younger
students will have the opportunity to see college-aged role models in action. It’s
a win-win situation, and one that I look forward to very much.”
Delivery of the scope is in the works, and Foster says he hopes to have it up and
“Once it is here, we plan to have an open house to celebrate,” he says.
About Randolph-Macon College
Founded in 1830, and ideally located in historic Ashland, Virginia, just minutes
north of Richmond and 90 miles south of Washington D.C., Randolph-Macon College
is a selective, co-educational, nationally-recognized liberal arts college with
a mission of “developing the minds and character of its students.” The college achieves
this mission through a combination of personal interaction and academic rigor. Enrollment
is approximately 1,300 with a student-faculty ratio of 11:1 and an average class
size of 15 students. Randolph-Macon College is known for its exceptional faculty,
national and international internships, study abroad and undergraduate research
opportunities and unique First-Year Experience and January term programs. The college
pledges a Four-Year Degree Guarantee for eligible students and also offers The EDGE,
a program within the innovative Center for Personal and Career Development, aimed
at helping graduates lead the pack when competing for jobs and applying to graduate
schools. Randolph-Macon, the oldest United Methodist Church-affiliated College in
the nation, is recognized by the Phi Beta Kappa Society for having the most outstanding
chapter at a liberal arts college in the United States.