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Jeff Gilarde, director of Scientific Imaging, helps students and faculty members use Wesleyan’s newest confocal microscope inside the Advanced Instrumentation Center.
 
Posted 03.31.05

Director of Scientific Imaging Scopes out the Microscopic

Jeff Gilarde loves to scope out new research. But to explore his big ideas, he has to look small.

As the Biology Department’s director of Scientific Imaging, Gilarde spends his days looking through the lab’s five microscopes. He also assists faculty and students with their microscopic research inside the Advanced Instrumentation Center, located under the pathway between Hall-Atwater Laboratory and Shanklin.

“Look, these are liver cells,” he says, pointing out a cell’s image, glowing through a transmission electron microscope, or TEM. “Do you see the nucleus?”

The lights are off, and Gilarde explains how electrons are shot down through the scope’s vertical column and are scattered through the sample, mounted on a 1/8-inch circular copper grid. The result is a clear, two-dimensional image magnified 15,000 times.

This is one microscope Gilarde is extremely familiar with. Prior to coming to Wesleyan in 1984, he worked for Yale University as a microscopist in the Department of Pathology. There, he used a similar scope to examine segments of liver, kidney or lung for autopsies.

“It was kind of icky at first, but I got used to it,” he says.

Gilarde’s favorite, most commonly used – and most expensive – microscope uses lasers to illuminate specimens under the Zeiss LSM 510 confocal scope. This high-tech machine came to Wesleyan in 1999 at the price of $259,000, funded in part from a National Science Foundation grant. It has the ability to magnify objects more than 400 times and produces crisp, colorful multi-dyed images. Many of these images have been published in a variety of scientific journals.

Another microscope that receives extensive use is the scanning electron microscope, known as a SEM. The SEM creates detailed three-dimensional images by bouncing and collecting electrons instead of light waves. Some SEM images are even making their way on TV through programs like CSI.

This scope is often used to examine micro-fossils, rocks and even brain tissue. Physics students have used the scope to examine heat-treated metal.

“You know those nature shows that show the ant head close up or the Gillette commercials that show the stubble sliced close to his face? Those were made on an SEM like this,” Gilarde explains.

At most universities, undergraduate students would not have access to an SEM, Gilarde says. But at Wesleyan, undergrads use the all the microscopes regularly. One biology student is currently using the SEM to count chambers in moths’ wings. Other students are using the microscope to examine sediment core samples taken from the ocean as part of Associate Professor Suzanne O’Connell's earth and environmental sciences classes. Students also have identified surface features on quartz grains that have been transported by glaciers under the scopes. 

“Jeff is always accessible and willing help students learn how to use the equipment,” says O’Connell, chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences department.

Gilarde also oversees a Zeiss Axioplan florcent microsope and “babysits” two mammoth nuclear magnetic resonance machines in the lab. Step past the danger sign and anything magnetic will be erased, Gilarde warns.

On a marble counter top, among shelves of chemical dyes and powders, there are also a traditional light microscope.

“I still get a lot of use out of that one,” he says. “We use it for low magnification quality control of samples before we go to the big scope.”

Gilarde has put his knowledge to use beyond the center, he served as the president and vice president of the Connecticut Microscopy Society, and he sat on the nomination board for the Microscopy Society of America.

He also co-instructs BIOL 344, Biology Structure, with Professor of Biology Jason Wolfe, teaching students the theory, methods and interpretation of cellular structure by using scanning electron microscopy, fluorescent immunocytochemistry and confocal microscopy.

Gilarde, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Connecticut, and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Wesleyan, is a member of Wesleyan’s Local Emergency Planning Committee. He’s also received certification by the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, also known as HazMat, to handle certain types of hazardous materials emergencies.

Gilarde and his wife, Lisa, live in Cobalt with their 9-year-old twins, Alec and Graham, and 6-year-old daughter, Camille. When he’s not busy spending time with his family, this shade tree mechanic races his self-customized 1995 BMW M-3 at speeds up to 150 mph around Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn.

 “Cars have been my passion for years,” he says, pointing out a racing plaque he earned for placing in the top 10 in a recent BMW Car Club of America race at Lime Rock.

Gilarde’s other hobby is a bit fishy. Along with Biology Department Lab Coordinator and officemate Bruce Libman, Gilarde cares for saltwater aquariums, raising coral.

Libman, who has worked with Gilarde for six years, says Gilarde has bonded with many students over his 20 years at Wesleyan.

“All the grad students love him because he doesn't pretend to be above or below them,” Libman says. “He makes sure they get the best possible pictures with the confocal, there is no "good enough.”

Gilarde, who is also Wesleyan’s assistant golf coach, leads construction projects for Habitat for Humanity of Horry County during vacations to South Carolina four times a year. For the past 15 years, he has also taken to the slopes as a volunteer for Skiers Unlimited. The organization’s members team up with physically challenged patients from the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. To date, Gilarde’s taught more than 30 children, including one young man with only one leg, to ski comfortably.

“One of them is now skiing all by himself, and he can go faster than I can,” Gilarde says, pointing out another prized skiing photo of Matt, using a walker on the slopes.

“I want to leave the world a better place. That’s my mission in life.”

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor