Advanced Microscopy

Advanced microscopy has been a priority area of research for the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology since its inception in 2016. With the aim of advancing this strategic line of work within the BIST Community but also in the broader Catalan research ecosysten, BIST has played a major role in the acquisition of cutting-edge electron microscopy equipment for life sciences and materials science research.

BIST centres concentrate a cutting-edge portfolio of advanced optical microscopy techniques, positioned at the highest international competitive level. The range of imaging technologies span from single molecule imaging in living cells, different types of super-resolution microscopes, light sheet microscopy and optical tomography for 3D-full organ imaging to multi-photon approaches for in-vivo imaging of small organisms. The instruments include commercial systems, mostly placed in dedicated imaging facilities at different BIST centres, as well as custom-made set-ups being developed by research groups and/or within the facilities. BIST community combines basic research towards technological breakthroughs in the fields of optical imaging, together with new concepts for probe development and/or novel image analysis strategies.

BIST also organises an annual training school and symposium to discuss the latest developments and techniques in microscopy, nanoscopy, and imaging sciences. This ensures that incoming students in the BIST Community are trained in the latest techniques, and that the broader scientific community has a space for sharing best practises and keeping up with new developments.

Nanomebrane section
at atomic resolution

What is Advanced Microscopy?

Advanced optical microscopy encompasses a whole palette of light-based optical approaches to enhace the spatiotemporal resolution beyond the diffraction limit of light by means of super-resolution methods, as well as techniques that increase imaging depth, contrast and temporal resolution while maintaining sample viability.

Advanced electron microscopy in materials science encompasses imaging, diffraction, and spectroscopy methodologies that permit ultimate resolutions (below 50 pm in space and below 25 meV in energy), allowing for the mapping of material structures atom by atom, discerning their elemental nature. In addition, advanced electron microscopy for life sciences encompasses those high-resolution techniques in cryogenic or liquid environments that allow for reconstruction of biological structures like viruses and proteins with resolutions close to the atomic scale.

Joint Electron Microscopy Centre at ALBA (JEMCA)

After identifying that the broader Catalan research ecosystem would benefit enormously from the acquisition of advanced electron microscopy equipment for molecular biology and materials science, BIST along with external researchers and institutions set up the JEMCA project, made possible in 2020 thanks to co-financing from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Two Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEM) were acquired and installed at the ALBA Synchrotron:

  • A 200 kV TEM, Glacios from ThermoFisher Scientific, for research in the field of life sciences. This microscope allows for the observation of the structure of biomolecules at the atomic scale without the need to obtain crystals. It is co-financed by an ERDF-Government of Catalonia project valued at 1.7 million euros led by the Molecular Biology Institute of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC) and with the participation of the ALBA Synchrotron, IRB Barcelona, CRG, and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).
  • A 300 kV (S)TEM, Spectra 300 from ThermoFisher Scientific, (picture next to this text) for research in the field of 2D materials and nanomaterials. This STEM with a monochromated electron gun and aberration correctors for image and condensor lenses (METCAM) allows for the study of materials at atomic resolution (below 50 pm resolution). It is co-financed by an ERDF-Government of Catalonia project valued at 4.1 million euros, and led by the ICN2 with the participation of the ALBA Synchrotron, the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC) and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). The project also included the acquisition of a Focused Ion Beam allowing cutting of material samples in very thin layers to then be used in the microscope. This equipment is placed at ICN2.

The JEMCA was publicly inaugurated on February 24th, 2023. The BIST foundation financially contributes to this equipment as a private sponsor.

Winter School and BIST Symposium on Microscopy, Nanoscopy, and Imaging Sciences

In 2018, a Winter School on Microscopy, Nanoscopy, and Imaging Sciences was established as part of the training programme of the BIST Master of Multidisciplinary Research in Experimental Sciences (MMRES), ensuring that incoming students receive excellent training in these techniques. This Winter School, which has been part of the MMRES programme since its inception and is coordinated by Maria García Parajo -ICREA Professor and Group Leader at ICFO- and Jordi Arbiol -ICREA Professor and Group Leader at ICN2-, includes theoretical classes (lectures and research seminars held at the BIST centres), broadly covering optical, electron, and scanning probe microscopy, Raman imaging and spectroscopy, and imaging technology and approaches in astrophysics/cosmology, among others.

The Winter School culminates in the BIST Symposium on Microscopy, Nanoscopy, and Imaging Sciences (BSyM), an event open to the broader community, bringing  together BIST researchers, students, and internationally renowned keynote speakers.

Microscopy is important, because SEEING the small world is understanding… and understanding builds the knowledge of our society

Jordi Arbiol

Imaging technologies are core disciplines of tomorrow´s discoveries in biology and medicine. Training the next generation of scientists in Advanced microscopy is therefore crucial to advance our understanding of health and disease

Maria Garcia-Parajo

BIST centres

Institutional Members of the Board of Trustees