NIH Grant Brings New Scanning Electron Microscope to Dr. Timothy Bromage's Lab at NYU Dentistry


NYU College of Dentistry’s Department of Biomaterials has acquired a field emission scanning electron microscope (SEM) — a high-resolution, high-sensitivity microscope to be used in studying tooth, bone, and related materials — thanks to a $581,000 National Institute of Health grant (1S10OD026989-01) and an approximately $150,000 credit for the Zeiss microscope it replaces.

"Implementing the new field emission scanning electron microscope provides a major step forward in the quality of research and in the visualizing of details not visible with a conventional scanning electron microscope," said Timothy Bromage, PhD, professor of biomaterials and of basic science and craniofacial biology at NYU College of Dentistry and the NIH grant’s principal investigator.

Bromage and his colleagues in the Histology and Correlative Microscopy Core study skeletal tissues and dental materials. The Core provides expertise in tissue and synthetic specimen preparation as well as imaging support for the College's bone, tooth, and oral health research programs.

While conventional SEMs have become a staple of their work, researchers have found an increasing need for a microscope that offers greater resolution and brightness. Field emission technology is a new type of electron source that provides a higher signal and very high magnification, resulting in much better resolution. The new microscope — a Zeiss GeminiSEM 300 Field Emission SEM — has as low a resolution as 0.7 nanometer resolution. (For context, a DNA molecule is 20 nanometers in diameter.)

In addition, most field emission SEMs require specimens being studied to be covered in a conductive coating, which can affect the image quality and dehydrate the materials.

“What’s exciting is that we can image at variable pressure, which means we can put bone, tooth, or other tissue into the microscope without having to coat it. No such field emission SEM exists in another dental school,” said Dr. Bromage.

Researchers at NYU College of Dentistry, as well as collaborators at the Hospital for Special Surgery, will use the field emission SEM to investigate a variety of health topics. These include evaluations of the physical and chemical processes by which dental implants integrate into the body, bone regeneration around severe defects, the role of inflammation in the repair of bone, the role of calcium in regulating tooth development, and fracture-resistant aesthetic tooth implants.

For example, the biomineralization of bones and teeth — processes vital to health — often produce different crystal phases. The field emission SEM will allow researchers to characterize the crystals at the nanoscale in order to visualize and better understand structure-property relationships. This will then help researchers to design better artificial structures like implants that mimic teeth and bone.

"Basically, everything we're going to see — as far as our community of researchers is concerned — is the first time it's ever been seen. That is what drives science. We’re going to have to ask new questions and will get a new perspective on science," said Dr. Bromage.

The Zeiss GeminiSEM 300 Field Emission SEM will be installed in January 2020 and will replace an aging SEM.