In the Fluorescence Microscopy lab, students work alongside Prof. Kelley Sullivan to study biophysical processes. Fluorescent materials are interesting because they absorb specific wavelengths (colors) of light and then re-emit light shifted to a longer wavelength (different color). This shift in color allows researchers to easily distinguish fluorescent materials from their non-fluorescent surroundings. Fluorescence microscopy is uniquely suited to investigate cellular biophysics because researchers can “tag” parts of a cell with synthetic fluorescent markers then image the cell and watch the tagged components move around and interact.
In a recent fun project, our lab investigated the auto-fluorescent properties of microplastics. Microplastics have emerged in recent years as a significant environmental pollutant. One way to differentiate microplastics from other environmental debris is that microplastics fluoresce naturally. Unfortunately, auto-fluorescence fades under extended exposure to intense light during imaging. We quantified this photobleaching effect to provide imaging constraints to help researchers avoid damage to their samples. Physics alum Valerie Gugliada (’19) contributed significantly to the project and earned authorship on the resulting publication.