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Biological Imaging Facility

Lab Spotlight

Steve Ruzin with a Zeiss Lm 710 confocal microscope.

When Steve Ruzin, PhD ’84 Botany, arrived at UC Berkeley in 1989 to manage the Center for Plant Developmental Biology, the fledgling facility’s mission was to utilize modern and classical techniques in genetics and cell biology to deepen scientific understanding of the development of specialized cells in corn and other plants.

As the field of developmental biology advanced and equipment capabilities evolved, Ruzin predicted that high-magnification microscopes would be useful for researchers across campus. So in 1991, Ruzin used funds from the Center’s initial National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to purchase a Sarastro Phoibos 1000, the first commercial laser-scanning confocal microscope capable of producing a three-dimensional visualization of a sample. “That was probably the first confocal microscope at UC Berkeley,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the NSF center had heard of it before.”

The Center acquired more equipment and increased its user base, and Ruzin approached College of Natural Resources leadership with a proposal to transform it into a dedicated microscopy core facility.

A stained arabidopsis seed imaged under ultraviolet excitation on a Zeiss Axiophot epifluorescence microscope. Graduate student Brianna Parrington using a ZEISS Axio Observer.

In 1998 he was named director of the Biological Imaging Facility (BIF), one of four core laboratories on campus that offer expertise, instruction, and instrumentation in microscopy for research. He hired Denise Schichnes, PhD ’97 Plant and Microbial Biology, as a lab scientist to help run the facility.

“Microscope technology has changed so much over the years,” said Ruzin, who worked with Schichnes and other faculty during his career to secure more than $2.5 million in grant funding for new equipment.

Now, the BIF is capable of high-magnification and high-speed microscopy, examining living cells using fluorescent proteins and imaging through microscope-mounted digital cameras. More than 5,000 scientific publications have benefited from the BIF’s equipment, and the Facility has hosted upwards of 4,000 users from across the university and elsewhere.

Ruzin retired from full-time duties in 2022 but remains active with the BIF, which—now under the direction of Schichnes—continues to offer cutting-edge tools for researchers.

Visit the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology website to read more about the Biological Imaging Facility and see additional photos of cells captured using its equipment.