Leaf hairs and molecules grab microscopy limelight


Rebecca Pool

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 22:15
Image: “The Fingerprint of Molecules” won first place for faculty in the microscopy category [NCSU]. 
North Carolina State University has released stunning microscopy winning images from this year's NC State Research Image Contest.
First place for microscopy amongst faculty and staff went to Professor Rich Spontak, from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, for an image he called “The Fingerprint of Molecules” (above).
“This unedited polarized light microscope image shows the crystal formation of a special type of polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS) solvent-casted with chloroform,” explains Spontak. “We observe plaque-like formations surrounding a fingerprint-like domain, which we found was characteristic only with this molecule and this particular solvent.
According to the researcher, he and colleagues used computer simulations to understand the underlying reasons behind these formations.
"There is a unique molecular and geometric interaction between these molecules. They lock each other just like LEGO pieces," he says. "This way, POSS molecules can form a continuous surface that can be used as a protective coating on polymers against X-rays and UV light. We observe here the fingerprint of that perfect protection.”
Meanwhile, the first place winner for graduate students and postdocs was Eric Land, a PhD student in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology, for his image of a leaf structure in Arabidopsis thaliana, a model organism widely used in plant biology research.
Arabidopsis thaliana from Eric Land
“This scanning electron micrograph captures the impressive three dimensional structure of an Arabidopsis trichome, or ‘leaf hair,’” says Land. “Appearing like a tree growing among a meadow, these trichomes are actually single cell appendages growing out of the leaf surface. In the background, surface cells, and pore-like stomata can also be seen.
“Trichomes are unique structures, often capable of secreting beneficial compounds onto a plant’s leaf surface,” he adds. “Investigating how these compounds are coated onto the leaf surface, and what their natural roles are, may provide significant insight into crop resistance to insects, fungi and drought.”
Find work from winners in all of the research image contest categories here.
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