Carolyn Larabell is the Director of the National Center for X-ray Tomography, which develops novel imaging technologies for biological and biomedical research. In particular, NCXT staff and collaborators are spearheading the development of soft x-ray tomography as a new tool for visualizing cells. A major part of this development has been the design, construction and now operation of XM-2, the world’s first soft x-ray microscope for life science research. Located at the Advanced Light Source of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the microscope is fully operational and in high demand.
NCXT staff are also developing new light-based methods for imaging cells, for example high-numerical aperture cryo-light microscopy. This new modality allows cryopreserved cells to be sequentially imaged with light (fluorescence) and then x-rays. The latter visualizes the detailed, 3-dimensional sub-cellular architecture, whereas light-based imaging provides information on the positions of fluorescent-tagged molecules within the cell. These two pieces of data can be overlaid to form a single, information rich 3D image of a cell. This technique is now producing powerful insights into cell structure and the local environment of the fluorescent-labeled molecule. This information can be integrated with molecular biology, genetics and computer modeling to greatly increase our understanding of cell biology.