Transformative equipment fund brings new capabilities to campus

Oct. 25, 2023

Five new instruments that will unlock discoveries across the sciences and engineering have been selected to receive funding through the Provost and Dean for Research Transformative Equipment Initiative.

The initiative supports the purchase of instruments that enhance researchers’ abilities to explore new questions, as well as providing for the replacement and upgrade of existing equipment. Each year, faculty members are invited to apply for equipment costing at least $500,000. Proposals are evaluated based on the potential for innovative science, a well-formulated plan for maintaining state-of-the-art capabilities in shared facilities, and plans for broad use across units and departments.

The fund was established in 2022 under former Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti and former Provost Deborah Prentice, and the projects below were selected in 2023 under the leadership of Dean Debenedetti.

The following equipment will be funded:

New opportunities:

Multichannel scanning electron microscope for next generation connectomics

By Catherine Zandonella

A new microscope will enable researchers to image ultra-large areas of extremely small objects at rapid speed, providing a deeper understanding of brain function. The multibeam scanning electron microscope (mSEM) will have the potential to produce wiring diagrams of larger mammalian brains than those which have been achieved so far. The instrumentation will make possible significant advancements in connectomics, the mapping of connections between neurons in the brain. Researchers from all units and departments at Princeton University will have access to the mSEM for brain studies. 

The proposal for this equipment was submitted by Mala Murthy, the Karol and Marnie Marcin '96 Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI), and H. Sebastian Seung, the Evnin Professor in Neuroscience and professor of computer science and neuroscience. The equipment will be located in the McDonnell Shared Microscopy Facility in PNI.

Long-read DNA sequencing platform

By Alaina O’Regan

The purchase of a “third-generation” DNA sequencer will enable data collection and experimentation that would otherwise not be possible in a range of fields including genomics, molecular biology and neuroscience. Previous advances in DNA sequencing, where scientists determine the exact order of the chemical building blocks that make up a strand of DNA, have had profound impacts on basic and biomedical science. The new equipment, called the PacBio Revio Sequencer, will enable Princeton to play a leading role in adopting advanced DNA sequencing techniques. The PacBio has an accuracy of 99.9%, provides information on epigenetic modifications of DNA, and enables sequencing of DNA segments that are 100 times longer compared to existing sequencing technologies. These characteristics are currently unmatched by other commercially available equipment. The system’s combination of cost, power, simplicity and flexibility will serve the diverse user base at Princeton, and the machine will be accessible to all researchers on campus.

The proposal for this new equipment was submitted by Brittany Adamson, assistant professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, director of the undergraduate program in quantitative and computational biology and Richard B. Fisher Preceptor in Integrative Genomics, and Joshua Akey, professor in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. The instrument will be housed in the Genomics Core facility in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

High-precision techniques for cognitive neuroscience

By Siya Arora

A new suite of tools will allow neuroscience researchers to explore how everyday activities such as thinking, reasoning and problem-solving arise from the dynamic interaction of neurons in the brain. The funding will enable the purchase of high-resolution equipment that combines computed tomography (CT) and robots to precisely locate and record from neurons in the brain. The CT-guided system will improve the safety, precision and speed of experiments involving brain structures that are difficult to target due to their small size and location. The tools will expand the ability to record signals from thousands of neurons simultaneously, and allow researchers to pursue cutting-edge research approaches, including manipulating neural activity and investigating the functional role of different cell types.

The proposal was submitted by Timothy Buschman, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Sabine Kastner, professor of psychology and neuroscience. The equipment will be located in PNI.

Graphics processing units (GPUs) for data science and engineering

By Alaina O’Regan

The implementation of additional Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) computing resources will support advances in data science and artificial intelligence applications. GPUs – originally developed to perform arithmetic calculations necessary for interactive 3D graphics – have proven ideal for the calculations used to train multi-layer neural networks, computing systems that mimic the structure of biological neural networks of the human brain. Compared to traditional high-performance computing systems, GPUs provide orders of magnitude faster processing for these applications. The School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) will acquire several hundred GPUs, together with supporting systems and disk storage, which will enhance research capabilities and ensure that researchers remain competitive across data science and engineering fields. Models produced with this new equipment have the potential to promote collaboration and counter the trend of models controlled by major tech companies. The addition of these resources, which will be available for use by all researchers in SEAS, will enhance research capabilities, foster collaboration, and solidify Princeton University's position as a leader in these fields.

The proposal for this new equipment was submitted by Andrea Goldsmith, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering. The hardware will be located in the High Performance Computing Research Center (HPCRC) on the Princeton Forrestal campus, and will be managed by the Computer Science Department technical staff.

Replacement of existing equipment

Large-particle flow cytometer

By Alaina O’Regan

The replacement of the COPAS large particle flow cytometer, a machine that sorts and analyzes small objects and organisms such as cells, will benefit several research groups on campus. First installed 16 years ago, the existing unit no longer meets the evolving needs of its user base. The upgraded model, called COPAS Vision, will increase the productivity and efficiency of researchers in genomics, molecular biology, and chemical and biological engineering. The new machine will accommodate larger objects such as multicellular organisms, cell clusters and other sample types that are too large or too fragile for a traditional flow cytometer, reducing the need for laborious hand-sorting of samples. For example, the new sorter will reduce the time it takes Lindy McBride, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and neuroscience, to screen genetically modified and unmodified mosquitoes from several weeks to less than a day. The equipment will be available to a variety of labs on the Princeton campus and to partners at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. 

The proposal for this new equipment was submitted by Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology. The instrument will be housed in the shared Flow Cytometry Resource Facility in the space where the older system currently sits.