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Horstmeyer Receives NSF CAREER Award to Develop Hardware and Software for Fast, High-Definition, 3D Microscopes

Written by  Michaela Martinez

Roarke Horstmeyer, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. The award supports outstanding early-career faculty in building a foundation for a lifelong research program.

The competitive, five-year $500,000 grant will support Horstmeyer’s work to develop computational microscope hardware and software that will capture and process large-volume, high-speed videos of biological organisms like zebrafish and fruit flies.

Horstmeyer runs the Computational Optics Lab at Duke, where he develops microscopes, cameras and computer algorithms for biomedical applications. Since joining Duke BME 2018, Horstmeyer has developed a microscope that uses machine learning to automatically adapt its lighting to capture and extract information from images efficiently, and the Multi Camera Array Microscope, which uses arrays of up to 100 lenses and individual image sensors to capture and record detailed, 3D videos of freely moving organisms.

With the CAREER award, Horstmeyer will build on this work to develop COMputational Multi-aperture (COMMA) optical hardware that can image and analyze large-volume, 3D videos of freely moving model organisms. The development of these tools could increase the scope of current digital microscopes by a factor of 100, enabling researchers to capture images at resolutions approaching the cellular scale over large volumes. Horstmeyer will also create software to pair with these tools that can rapidly translate data from the microscope sensors into 3D video and efficiently display these large-scale videos on the web.

Once the team has optimized the hardware and software for their project, Horstmeyer will collaborate with Duke researchers to showcase the COMMA-3D technology by examining natural movement and fluorescence neural activity in C. Elegans and zebrafish larvae.

“It is currently very challenging to observe the natural 3D behavior of freely moving organisms at high resolution,” explains Horstmeyer. “Usually, scientists must constrain or sedate organisms to prevent movement, so they can see them clearly under the microscope. We hope that our 3D imagers can help scientists observe new and interesting biophysical phenomena in organisms that are behaving and socially interacting in natural ways.”

Funding for the CAREER award will also be used to ensure that this new technology is promoted and used outside of Horstmeyer’s own lab. Horstmeyer will develop a series of online and hands-on lessons about the use and biomedical applications of digital microscopes, with a particular focus on how students can use 3D microscopes, like COMMA, for image measurement. Video data collected from the COMMA-3D microscope and software will also be integrated into the Duke BME undergraduate curriculum so students can use the images and video data for computational and optical exercises.

This work will also extend outside of Duke. Horstmeyer’s team will organize a series of hands-on laboratory lessons with existing high school student outreach programs within Duke. They will also collaborate with the Duke Center for Computational Thinking to develop 8 online lessons about digital microscope research and development that will be piloted within Duke before being shared more broadly.

“I am honored to be selected for a CAREER award,” says Horstmeyer. “I am really excited to have the opportunity to create new imaging methods that will push the boundaries of what we can observe and open up new frontiers of scientific exploration.”