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Scope Brings New Clarity to Scientific Research

Merrimack scientists are calling it one of the most amazing and fun research tools they have ever used. It also promises to bring new clarity and precision to the work that leads to biomedical discovery.

The Zeiss LSM 880 laser-scanning confocal microscope with Airyscan, purchased with part of a grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, arrived on campus earlier this fall to great fanfare. With a price tag of $300,000, the scope uses a laser to pinpoint and focus on research material as small as a living cell.

“You would usually see these at a large research university,” said science and engineering dean Cynthia McGowan. “Our faculty are so excited. They’re already imagining the new types of labs and research they can do with students.”

The laser microscope enables students to view the tiniest living cellular components, such as mitochondria and cytoskeletons, from different angles and depths to get fuller understanding of their life functions. The three-dimensional, high-resolution images produced by the scope are breathtaking, faculty members said.

“The laser scans the field and excites florescent dyes attached to cellular components,” explained biology chair Janine LeBlanc-Straceski. “The resolution is incredible.”

She said the instrument will be a boon to students in the sciences, particularly those working toward careers in cellular and molecular biology or biochemistry.

Faculty, too, will benefit by having the means to perform more advanced research worthy of publication in the best scientific journals, added McGowan.

“If you have something you can visualize, you can manipulate it better,” she said.

For a three-dimensional video of a pollen grain made using Airyscan, visit