New network for sample preparation

A national expertise network for sample preparation has been funded by a recent Swedish Research Council grant. It will become a valuable asset to users in the areas of imaging and spectroscopy of soft and life science samples at MAX IV. Several regional nodes for support and advice in sample preparation will be available. We talked to one of the coordinators Peter Ekström, about the challenges in preparing this type of samples and how he and his colleagues within the network will be able to help the users. 



Here is the news release from Umeå University:

8 million SEK to expertise network for sample preparation

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

Umeå researcher Linda Sandblad with partners from MAX IV Laboratory, Karolinska Institute, RISE, Chalmers University of Technology, and Lund University receive an 8 million SEK grant for four years for improving the accessibility of national infrastructures.

“By establishing a network of regional hubs, at which the appropriate infrastructure and competence for sample preparation and preliminary characterization of samples are present, the project aims to secure that the large investments in MAX IV and SciLifeLab in practice become truly national and are accessible to all sectors of research”, says Linda Sandblad, researcher at Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden, MIMS, and director of Umeå Core facility for Electron Microscopy, UCEM at Umeå University.

An essential part of every successful experiment is good sample preparation. This requires intimate knowledge of the scientific question at hand, the nature and state of the sample, and the intricacies of the measurement technique. With the advent of sophisticated X-ray spectromicroscopy techniques at MAX IV as well as cryo-electron microscopy methods for biological samples at the universities, this has become even more apparent.

The aim of the project, National Nodes for Sample Preparation and Microscopy, is therefore, to reach out to both academic and industrial research communities within life sciences and soft materials to facilitate experiments at MAX IV, SciLifeLab, and the universities own infrastructures.

“This will be achieved by forming a collaborative network of labs providing, among other things, an easy access route for new users as well as sample preparation support, specialized workshops, training and assistance with sample characterization and data analysis”, says Linda Sandblad.

In the physical and chemical sciences, samples can often be tailored to suit the experimental conditions, and atomic or molecular control of the sample is generally available.

On the other hand, biological and soft samples contain a lot of water and are often of a more unpredictable nature: tissue biopsies, genetically modified seeds, Alzheimer neurons, bacteria in food to name but a few. For best results, these samples should not be chemically treated, no chemical fixation and/or staining should be applied, and they should instead be presented as close to their native state as possible.

“In electron microscopy, the constraints of the technique also heavily influence the sample preparation. For the new MAX IV beamlines and the cryo-electron tomography instruments at SciLifeLab, a particular cryo-methodology for sample preparation and beam damage protection is therefore highly required. Thicker material and samples need to be cut by a diamond knife to ultra-thin leaves with nanometer precision. For this, instruments and expertise will be available through the network, for example at Umeå Core facility for Electron Microscopy”, says Linda Sandblad.