What is QSTORM?

QSTORM is a multi-university, multi-disciplinary research venture funded by the National Science Foundation from 2010 to 2014 to take a high-risk, high-reward approach to improving super-resolution biological imaging.

The Q stands for quantum dots, and STORM is an acronym for STochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy, a super-resolution imaging technique. The QSTORM researchers seek to significantly improve STORM’s power to resolve the tiniest structures and activities of life by applying brighter sources of illumination and reducing depth distortion.

Quantum dots are to be substituted for the fluorescent dyes normally used in STORM.  Quantum dots are much brighter and longer lasting, meaning that more data points could be recorded at any given moment and over a longer period of time.  The challenge faced by the chemical engineers on the team is to figure out how to control the emission of light from the quantum dots, so that they can blink intermittently, as the STORM technique requires. This group also has to deliver to the biologists quantum dots that can tagged with targeting molecules and delivered safely into intact cells to bind with the structures to be imaged and understood.

Adaptive Optics.  The optical engineers on the team are reducing depth distortion induced by imaging through cell layers by applying correctional algorithms originally developed to correct for atmospheric distortions in astronomical imaging.

Funding.  The NSF grant for QSTORM and this website has run its course, and team members are pursuing their research through other means.  The two lead biologists on the team (Ge Yang and Beth Brainerd) are pursuing their investigations with existing imaging technologies.  The lead quantum dot expert (Jessica Winter) and optical engineer (Peter Kner) are continuing to collaborate to achieve the primary goals of QSTORM.

qstorm.org is now a legacy website maintained as an educational resource by the Strategic Projects Group at the Museum of Science, Boston.  For five years (2010-2015) it documented the real day-to-day progress and communications of the multi-university, multi-disciplinary QSTORM research team, and sought to help interpret the research for broader audiences. Each university team – faculty and students – contributed blog posts, bios, lab logs, and data.  Here you can learn about the research teams, the science and engineering of super-resolution microscopy, the biological and medical problems that motivated the work, the ups and downs of life in the lab, the incremental successes and the discouraging setbacks.  Thus, this website documents the story of a remarkable collaboration that produced not only significant advances toward tackling an important challenge in biological imaging and visualization, but also a cohort of brave young investigators who shared an extraordinary multi-disciplinary collaborative research experience and have now gone on to apply their knowledge and talent to other worthy endeavors.

Editor-in-Chief: Carol Lynn Alpert
Webmaster: Karine Thate
Designer: Jeanne Antill

Visitors are welcome to contact the researchers and their current and former students though their own websites.

QSTORM Principal Investigators:
Jessica O. Winter, The Ohio State University
Peter Kner, University of Georgia – Athens
Ge Yang, Carnegie Mellon University
Elizabeth L. Brainerd, Brown University
Carol Lynn Alpert, Museum of Science, Boston

The Birth of QSTORM
The QSTORM team emerged during a week-long NSF “Innovations in Biological Imaging and Visualization” workshop held in Warrington, Virginia in May 2010. Retreat participants, including biologists, microscopists, physicists, artists, and computer scientists, had been selected through a peer review process, and were charged with the task of identifying significant high-risk, high-reward biological imaging and visualization breakthroughs, forming teams with the diverse skills needed to tackle these challenges, and developing collaborative research proposals to fund the investigations.  During the five days of intense discussion and deliberation, chemical engineer Jessica Winter and physicist Peter Kner came together with the idea of enhancing STORM imaging with quantum dots and adaptive optics.  They recruited biological engineer Ge Yang and evolutionary biologist Beth Brainerd who could use the improved imaging technique to investigate particular biological questions and would be able to test it.  These four then recruited science communicator, artist, and educator Carol Lynn Alpert to enhance internal and external communication and collaboration.   The group’s proposal, “Collaborative Research: QSTORM: Switchable Quantum Dots and Adaptive Optics for Super-Resolution Imaging” was funded for three years by the National Science Foundation in September 2010, under the Innovations in Biological Imaging and Visualization program, 10-538, through the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (Award # MCB-1052733). The team obtained a no-cost extension to work a fourth year, and the Museum of Science team obtained an additional partial year no-cost extension to conduct a survey of personal and professional outcomes for QSTORM PIs and student team members, produce a legacy website, and organize an Ideas Lab Symposium at the 2015 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Regarding all material on this website: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.