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Imaging Centre

Services and equipment supporting electron microscopy, light microscopy, histology, x-ray crystallography.

The Imaging Centre is located within the School of Biological Sciences. Its services are available to users within or outside the University.

The centre specialises in transmission electron microscopy (including cryo-TEM), light microscopy (including live cell imaging).

The centre staff will carry out projects on behalf of staff and students when it is cost and time-efficient to do so. There are charges for the use of some facilities. Where time permits, we are happy to train users in the operation of the unit’s equipment and facilities, and to make equipment available to trained users.

Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEM)

The Unit specialises in transmission electron microscopy, and has close links with the research group of Assoc. Prof. Alok Mitra. The electron microscopy equipment includes a broad range of preparation facilities for conventional and frozen samples, in addition to the microscopes themselves. 

FEI Tecnai FEG20


The Tecnai FEG20 TEM is operated jointly with the Faculty of Engineering. This 200 kV TEM is highly specified with field emission gun electron source, STEM imaging mode, Gatan energy filter and Edax EDS. Gatan Ultrascan 1000 4 Mpixel digital cameras record conventional and energy filtered images, and a Fischione HAADF records dark field images.  Sample holders include conventional and double tilt room temperature, and standard and high tilt cryo holders. Tomography software is available.

Features of the Tecnai FEG20 Include:

  • High accelerating voltage (200 kV) for increased resolving power, greater penetration
  • TEM or STEM mode
  • Z-contrast imaging with high angle annular dark field detector (HAADF)
  • EDS (X-ray spectroscopy) for elemental analysis
  • Automated tomography in TEM or STEM mode
  • Cryo-TEM with high-tilt stages and anti-contaminator
  • Gatan energy filter for elemental analysis, image filtering, fine probing of states of matter 

FEI Tecnai 12


The 120 kV Tecnai 12 TEM is optimised for cryo-electron microscopy, with Gatan cold stages and software that facilitates low dose imaging. It is equipped with a Gatan Ultrascan 1000 4 Mpixel digital camera and can also use plate film.

Features of the Tecnai 12 Include:

  • 120 kV for high contrast and resolution
  • Cryo-TEM
  • Bottom-mount digital camera for high resolution imaging 

Philips CM12


The 120 kV CM12 TEM is ideal for routine imaging of biological and materials science specimens. It is compliant with conventional techniques such as chemical fixation with heavy metal staining, and negative staining. It is equipped with single tilt, rotational, double tilt and multiple specimen holders. It has a Gatan Bioscan 1 Mpixel digital camera.

Features of the Philips CM12 Include:

  • 120 kV for high contrast and resolution
  • Top-mount digital camera for high field imaging




Atomic Force Microscopy

Atomic Force Microscopy is a very high-resolution type of scanning probe microscope with a resolution in the order of fractions of a nanometer. Using an atomic force microscope (AFM), it is possible to measure the roughness of a sample surface at high resolution and to distinguish a sample based on its mechanical properties. It is possible to identify the atoms at a surface, evaluate the interaction between a specific atom and its neighbouring atoms and change in physical properties arising from a change in atomic arrangement .

There are two Atomic Force Microscopes available:

  • Cypher ES Environmental AFM
  • MFP-3D Origin

Cypher ES Environmental AFM

Cypher ES Environmental AFM

Cypher is the first commercial AFM to take advantage of the high bandwidth and low noise performance of small cantilevers, and is the only commercial AFM to routinely resolve atomic point defects in the DNA helix. The Cypher ES adds adds full environmental control to the Cypher platform and is compatible with all standard and advanced scan modes such as Contact,Tapping /  Non-contact, Phase, Force measurements, Force mapping, STM, MFM ,PFM, C-AFM, EFM, SKPM, Dual AC, AM-FM/Loss Tangent, Frequency modulation.

The Cypher ES offers :

  • Gas perfusion in Sealed Cell
  • Integrated temperature control
  • Broad Chemical Compatibility

There are many fields which AFM analysis has been used and includes polymer, materials, life sciences and mechanics research.


MFP-3D Origin

MFP-3D Origin

The MFP-3D Origin AFM has a diverse range of applications producing powerful results in the fields of polymers, thin films, electronic devices and other advanced materials, bioscience and biophysics. It is capable of high resolution in both air and fluid using an inverted optical lever design to eliminate interference artifacts. The high performance closed-loop scanner enables easy and precise operation.

The platform and is compatible with standard and advanced scan modes such as Contact, Tapping / Non-contact, Phase, Force measurements, Force mapping, MFM, PFM, EFM, Dual AC, PFM, LFM, AM-FM / Loss Tangent, Frequency modulation. 

The MFP-Origin offers:

  • Hi-precision, low noise scan motion and closed loop operation in all three axis
  • Low noise force measurements
  • Versatile system configeration

Light microscopes


Andor Revolution spinning disc confocal microscope

This microscope is optimised for long-term and/ or high speed imaging of, in particular, live cell specimens. The spinning disc confocal system allows faster imaging and lower overall illumination levels than is practical with conventional point scanning confocals. Four laser lines (violet, blue, green and red) and a wide range of emission filters offer flexibility in design of experiments. The iQ software allows complex experimental designs to be accommodated. An incubator cabinet allows for temperature regulation and control of CO2 supply to the specimen.

Camera: Andor Ixon 885 (1 mega pixel EMCCD); up to 30 full frames per second.


Fluorescence microscopes (various)

A choice of well-equipped compound fluorescence microscopes are available. Both upright and inverted configurations are included, each with colour or greyscale high quality digital cameras (or both). For bright field work, contrasting options include phase contrast, DIC and modulation contrast. For fluorescence microscopy, a wide range of filter cubes are provided. A wide selection of objective lenses, contrasting techniques and filter sets are available. 


Leica LMD6000 Laser microdissection system

The Leica LMD6000 combines a powerful laser with a fully automated compound microscope, allowing the operator to speedily excise and collect tiny regions of interest from a slide-mounted specimen. The isolated fragments can then be analysed by PCR, mass spectroscopy, etc.


Histology equipment


A full histology service is available for paraffin- and cryo-embedded specimens. An automated tissue processor, embedding station, and rotary microtome provide for the preparation of paraffin sections, while a cryotome is available for frozen sections. A vibratome and a sledge microtome are also provided. A dedicated staining run facilitates H&E processing. 


Additional equipment


The Imaging Centre is equipped with a wide range of ancillary equipment for preparation of both biological and materials science TEM speciments, as well as for analysis of images. Included are a sample vitgrifier (Vitrobot), freeze (FEI Vitrobot), freeze fracture unit (Balzers BAF301), carbon evaporator unit, ultramicrotome, optical diffractometere, ion mill, dimple grinder, ultrasonic disc cutter, pumping stations, film desicators, and several plate film digitisers.





The Imaging Unit also has a number of stereo and zoom microscopes equipped with digital cameras that are available for routine imaging. 


Our people

Please contact Adrian Turner or Jennifer Chen for more information or assistance.

Dr Adrian Turner oversees the microscopy facility and assists users, he received a firm grounding in light microscopy during his B.Sc. Hons year at VUW. In the course of his Ph.D. in developmental biology in London, he was introduced to the potential of fluorescence microscopy. A switch to plant biology during postdocs in the U.K. and Australia gave him extensive experience in electron microscopy. Today he finds this range of experience is fully utilised in managing the diverse facilities of the microscopy unit.

Jennifer Chen is the Unit’s Histologist, and has over six years’ experience in the role, which she combines with an active research career.

See, Selected Publications.