Health Science Center’s N-STORM microscope is 1st in Texas, 2nd in country

SAN ANTONIO (May 23, 2011) — Talk about putting things under the microscope: A new ultra-high-resolution microscope at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio is allowing scientists to see details that are 10 to 20 times smaller than existing optical microscopes.

The N-STORM microscope obtained by the Health Science Center is the first in Texas and the second in the country. N-STORM enables researchers to visualize 3-D molecular structures of a cell in ways that have not been possible. Health Science Center researchers are lining up to apply these new capabilities to answer a range of biomedical questions.

The N-STORM soon will be housed in a shared-facility laboratory at the Health Science Center’s South Texas Research Facility, a 1,000-foot-long building under construction on Floyd Curl Drive. The South Texas Research Facility, to be dedicated this October, is a three-story building that would surpass the San Antonio icon, the Tower of the Americas, in length if the tower were laid down end to end.

“One N-STORM project will look at the 3-D entry of viruses into cells. These are viruses that infect and initiate many types of cancer,” said James Lechleiter, Ph.D., director of the Core Optical Imaging Facility and professor in the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology at the Health Science Center.

Another project will examine interaction between the human cell and the bacterium that causes the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. This bacterium invades and lives inside the cell. The idea is to identify the specific position of a molecule that is secreted by the bacterium to better understand how it exerts its effects inside the host cell.

Already, 14 investigators from 11 labs have begun training on the N-STORM system.

The resolution of a conventional optical microscope is limited by the wavelength of visible light, said Michael Wilson, Ph.D., director of institutional research core facilities at the Health Science Center. The accuracy of locating a single point of light is typically no better than approximately 250 nanometers.

Using special chemistry and advanced computational techniques, the N-STORM repeatedly maps blinking lights that are emitted from single molecules to a precise position, so that their location is established to within approximately 20 nanometers. “It is a very data-intensive technique that captures up to 50,000 image frames and processes them into a single, super-resolution image,” Dr. Wilson said.

The Health Science Center and the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), a program funded by the National Institutes of Health, provided matching funds to acquire the N-STORM for $377,000.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $228 million in fiscal year 2010. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $744 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit

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