Microscopy: Where science meets art

Filed Under: MAFNews

Scott Braswell

Q&A with Scott Braswell, Research Scientist at the Molecular Analysis Facility

How long have you been a MAF staff member?

I’ve been working at the UW with electron microscopes for about 12 years. When I started we were the NanoTech User Facility (NTUF), part of the Chemical Engineering department. The MAF didn’t get started until 2013 when they combined the old NTUF and Surface Analysis Recharge Center under Dave Castner.

What is your role at the MAF?

I maintain the MAF’s three scanning electron microscopes (including the FEI-Sirion and Apreo-S). I train students and researchers how to operate them and to analyze the images and other data they generate.

What is your background?

I have a B.S. in biochemistry and a Master’s in Teaching. My first career was in Lab Medicine performing chromosome studies. I felt too isolated working in a hospital lab so I went back to school to be a teacher. I worked a short stint as a science teacher at Garfield High School, but classroom teaching is really demanding! I was more interested in producing educational materials than in managing a classroom so I was really lucky to find this job, where I could develop my own manuals and teach microscopy in a community committed to learning.

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3D protein truss

How did you become interested in microscopy?

I got really interested in microscopy in high school when my biology teacher introduced the topic using Robert Hooke’s illustrations from the 1600s.  When classical scientists first developed microscopes in the 17th century, the best way to share the images was by drawing and publishing them. I was also into cartooning at the time, so I saw Hooke’s illustrations as a way to combine one of my favorite subjects (biology) with my drawing hobby.  Working in the pathology lab all of our images were digital of course, but we also did some image manipulation to arrange the chromosome images in to karyotypes, which is a bit artistic as well as a fun visual puzzle.  What I love about microscopy now is that it draws on so many areas of knowledge; your knowledge of the structure you’re observing, your technical skills in capturing a good micrograph, and your own aesthetic.

What in your opinion makes the MAF unique?

The staff! Each of us brings something unique to the table and as a result we all look at projects and problem-solve a little differently. Most importantly, we all want to help!

What is your favorite thing about working at the MAF?

I like working with the microscopes and the students.  I’m constantly learning new things about technology and about people.

Learn more about the Molecular Analysis Facility: www.moles.washington.edu/maf/