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

Cryo-EM image of a human ribosome
Cryo-EM rendering of a cell
Cryo-em image
Micrographic image of thon rings

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

Our scientists are specialized in cryo-EM data collection and microscope operation. 

The facility is available for free to prospective users who provide a statement that their project is relevant to cancer research. 

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

Since then, we’ve executed over 600 data collection sessions, providing services to 100 investigators in 50 institutions. 

Our specialists in cryo-EM data collection and microscope operation manage the facility and provide users with data for their research. 

Data collection and transfer process 

A scientist in a dark room prepares a cryo-EM sample under a large magnifying lens

To minimize wait time, only one user project from each principal investigator’s laboratory is in the active queue at any time and data collection is restricted to 48 hours. 

Here’s what we do for a user in a typical 48-hour user session:  

  • A user can submit up to eight grids for an imaging session.  

  • Transfer grids into the microscope and process screening of each grid for 10-15 minutes to determine the most suitable grid to image. 

  • Daily alignment and new gain reference for every user session. 

  • Initiate video conference with the user to discuss targeting and imaging parameters. 

  • Set up automated data collection run with selected target areas to sustain about 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. 

  • Stream data into a website for user access. 

  • Compress and transfer data to a storage server where user may download it through the Globus GridFTP client. 

  • Send user a full report with information on how to download the data that includes all the imaging settings, comments, and recommendations on grid and sample quality. 


Two monitors displaying cryo-EM images with the Titan Krios microscope in the background

The National Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility utilizes the latest technology in high-resolution imaging to meet the needs of structural biologists performing cancer research. 

Titan Krios microscopes 

The National Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility has two Thermo Fisher Scientific Titan Krios transmission electron microscopes. 

  • Both microscopes are outfitted with:  
    • Gatan K3 direct electron detectors behind Gatan BioQuantum energy filters 
    •  Falcon 3EC detectors 
  • One of the Titan Krios microscopes is also outfitted with a Volta Phase Plate.

Acknowledging our support 

In any publications and posters that use data provided by our facility, we require that you include acknowledgment, such as: 

"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 Services