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A closer look

Posted 12:47 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023

UWL biology major Ross Hobson and biology graduate student Kori Kruegel examine a sample using the Biology Department's new confocal microscope. This new device has allowed students and faculty to tackle microcopy projects that were impossible, or extremely difficult, with older equipment.

New microscope unlocks research opportunities for students, faculty

A new, high-powered microscope is already bringing benefits to UWL’s Biology Department. 

The department, in partnership with Gundersen Health System, recently purchased a confocal microscope with many different settings and features. It not only magnifies and allows specimens to be imaged at an extremely close range. It also uses lasers for visualization of cell activity and permits condition modificiations allowing researchers to study a broader range of specimens. 

The new technology has allowed for imaging and microscopy techniques for research, as well as the opportunity for students to learn more in upper-level courses.   

Associate Professor Anton Sanderfoot teaches an upper-level biology course called Advanced Microscopy, which consists of graduate and undergraduate biology students. Throughout the course, the students are given the training and knowledge necessary to understand different microscopy techniques.  

They are then given a semester-long project to conduct research of their choosing, as long as it pertains to the training they were taught and revolves around microscopy. Enter, the confocal microscope.

In addition to magnification, the confocal microscope uses lasers for visualization of cell activity.

Since Sanderfoot is one of only a handful of individuals with training to use the new technology, he used these projects to get his students involved with the new microscope in a classroom setting. He implemented a unit that was specific for techniques, like Fluorescent Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET), which can only be done on the confocal.  

Students used their new skills to assist professors across the Biology Department on microscopy research projects that were impossible, or extremely difficult, to perform prior to the arrival of the confocal.  

The opportunity to use advanced techniques and assist in research helped make the course exciting for students. It also sparked newfound interest and appreciation for microscopy and research. 

Along with the benefits students received, the microscope helped advance many campus research projects. 

Two of these beneficiaries have been the cell biology labs run by faculty members Jaclyn Wisinski and Scott Cooper. Wisinski uses fluorescent techniques to study a protein found in megakaryocytes. Cooper studies platelets and needs the features of the confocal microscope to study cell surface proteins.  

Graduate cell and molecular biology students who work in these labs, Vanessa Kaja and Kori Kruegel, used the skills they learned through Sanderfoot to serve as the primary investigators for projects requiring the confocal microscope.  

Both labs have been utilizing technology and techniques that are only possible with the confocal, drastically impacting the trajectory of their personal thesis projects as well as the overall goals of their respective labs.

The confocal has played a big part in the second part of my research,” says Kaja, a graduate student studying cell and molecular biology. “In my research, I work with 13-lined ground squirrels and human platelets. I am looking at the Glycoprotein 1b alpha (GpIbα), which are receptors found on the surface of the cell. For this project, I used two different fluorophores that allow me to use the confocal microscope to determine if proteins on the surface of the platelet are clustering. The way they work is that when one fluorophore gets excited, it emits a different wavelength that could excite the second fluorophore if the proteins are close together.” 

For more information, contact Sanderfoot at or Sarah Lantvit at 


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