Researchers, students benefit from NDSU's shared research facilities
Many high-level research universities have adopted a cost-efficient solution to stretch research dollars as far as possible – sharing.
NDSU offers research core facilities available to faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students from all departments, as well as individuals throughout the region for teaching, training and research. A research scientist oversees each lab, teaches others how to use the equipment and maintains the equipment and facility.
NDSU currently has four core facilities – Core Biology Facility, Core Synthesis Facility, Electron Microscopy Center and Advanced Imaging and Microscopy laboratory.
Jane Schuh, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary and Microbiological Sciences, refers to them as “a best-case scenario.”
“One of the strongest reasons to have those facilities (core facilities) is that in a university the size of NDSU not everybody can have hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment in their lab, but we are still able to conduct cutting-edge research and have the expertise and equipment on campus,” Schuh said.
She said offering shared facilities also is tremendous for recruiting faculty.
“If most of the equipment you need only rarely for your research is available at a core facility (which is also taking care of the service contract and maintenance for it), you can walk into a new lab with more startup money to be used for equipment that is unique to your research or for operating your lab.”
Having personnel in the core lab who can teach others is key. “Having a person or people who are trained in the use and capabilities of the technology can really catapult a research program into a new level,” Schuh said. This is particularly important where research goals would benefit from technology in which the investigator does not have a background.
The core facilities also provide an important learning experience for students. “Not only do I get to use them for my research, but when my students walk out the door with their degree, they have a valuable skill that they can take with them,” Schuh said.
The newest core facility, the Advanced Imaging and Microscopy laboratory, opened in 2010. Schuh helped write grants for its new equipment, including three top-of-the-line microscopes. When combined, they allow researchers to “see it” and “measure it” at the same time, in beautiful, multicolored, 3-D, structured illumination.
Later this year the lab will gain a laser scanning confocal microscope that will increase the ability to analyze tiny structures buried within a specimen. It does this with its ability to control depth of field, eliminate the background out-of-focus information and deliver an extremely high-quality image with relative ease. The microscope was funded through a cross-campus initiative to build research infrastructure.
So far the lab is most used by departments like chemistry, engineering, animal sciences, biological sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, microbiology and plant sciences.
The opportunity is there for anyone. Schuh said, “One of the things that is very important is not just who’s using it now, but who could use it in the future.”