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Jennifer Colonell

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Like many scientists at Janelia, I have a background of mixed disciplines. After my graduate training in classic surface science—studying the dynamics of chemical reactions on metal surfaces in ultra-high vacuum—I wanted to apply my skills to something “more useful.” My first useful activity was research in silicon processing as an MTS at Bell Labs. After a few years of making silicon devices, I was lured away by the challenges and potential medical relevance of high-throughput biology. In that vein, I worked at Praelux (and later Amersham Biosciences) on the development of a high-speed confocal microscope for imaging hundreds of thousands of cultured cell samples; at GlaxoSmithKline on miniaturized enzymatic assays; and at Helicos Biosciences on single-molecule DNA sequencing. A common theme of these projects has been the importance of building super-reliable tools—from optics to mechanics to software—that are also so convenient for the experimenter that taking good data is easy.

This idea is directly applicable in my work at Janelia: imaging in neuroscience requires a difficult combination of high-resolution data and large volumes. My first project here was development of automated microscope for array tomography samples, which has been used by scientists in the Svoboda and Spruston labs studying patterns of connectivity in mouse cortex and hippocampus. Currently, I am working on a Bessel beam selective plane illumination microscope, based on work in the Betzig lab, for fluorescent imaging of cleared Drosophila brains with resolution on the order of 0.15 x 0.15 x 0.2 microns. My hope for this tool is to enable rapid, simple measurements of detailed anatomy and connectivity patterns of specifically labeled neurons.