The National Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility provides extramural cancer researchers access to the latest technology for high-resolution imaging.

The National Cancer Institute launched the National Cryo-EM Facility in May 2017 as a federally funded pilot effort to help meet the needs of cancer researchers in United States academic laboratories who do not have adequate access to cryo-electron microscopy instruments. 

High-resolution imaging for structural biologists 

Our user facility addresses pressing national and regional needs for external structural biologists to have access to advanced microscopes capable of supporting high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy studies. We are dedicated to providing this access, which can be otherwise prohibitively expensive for many institutions.  

Investigator Inquiries

Interested investigators are encouraged to view the submission guidelines and create a user login

Contact us at

Scientist inserting a cryo-EM sample
Submit an application

Cryo-EM images collected on state-of-the-art instruments

External cancer researchers can submit an application form and upload pre-screening specimen images to the online portal.

Free resource for external cancer researchers 

Our specialists in cryo-EM data collection and microscope operation manage the facility and provide users with data for their research. The facility’s services are available for free to prospective users who provide a statement outlining their project’s relevance to cancer research.  

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“Thomas Edwards at the National Cryo-EM Facility gave us an excellent microscope image set.”
Katsu Murakami, Ph.D.
Huck Cryo-EM Facility, Pennsylvania State University

Meeting cancer researchers’ high-resolution imaging needs 

Our team has executed over 600 data collection sessions, providing services to 100 investigators at 50 institutions. We have been acknowledged in more than 100 user publications to date.  

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Acknowledging our support in publications 

Publications and posters that use data provided by the National Cryo-EM Facility must acknowledge the facility, using the following language:

“This research was, in part, supported by the National Cancer Institute’s National Cryo-EM Facility at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research under contract 75N91019D00024.” 

Our capabilities and specializations

Photo showing wires and connections to a microscope
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Titan Krios microscopes 

The National Cryo-EM Facility has two Thermo Fisher Scientific Titan Krios transmission electron microscopes. Both are outfitted with the latest technology. 

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  • Gatan K3 direct electron detectors behind Gatan BioQuantum energy filters 

  • Falcon 3EC detectors 

  • Volta phase plate available on one Titan Krios microscope 

Two monitors displaying cryo-EM images with the Titan Krios microscope in the background
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National Cryo-EM Facility user data report 

Samples are evaluated in a 48-hour session, and users are invited to observe data collection in real time.  Data are streamed to a dedicated website for user access and are available to download within five days following the session. 

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  • Globus download of data to user’s computer, including imaging settings, comments, and grid and sample quality recommendations 

  • Dynamic queuing 

  • Micrographs 

  • Automated NCEF 500 2D classifications from first 500 micrographs for quality control  

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Data collection and transfer process 

A single user project from each principal investigator’s laboratory is in the active queue at any time, and data collection is restricted to 48 hours. We meet with users via video conference to discuss targeting and imaging parameters. Data are streamed to a dedicated website for user access.

Here’s what we do for a user in the typical session: 

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  • Accept up to eight grids per imaging session 
  • Transfer grids to the microscope and screen each for 10-15 minutes to determine most suitable grid to image 
  • Provide daily alignment and new gain reference for every user session  
  • Set up data collection run with selected target areas to sustain 40-42 hours of data collection 
  • Observe data quality concurrently with data collection using a Scipion-based data pipeline to assess image astigmatism, defocus, nominal resolution limits, and particle motion  
  • Compress and transfer data to a storage server for user download via Globus GridFTP 
  • Provide user with full report with download instructions