Cryo-EM has received global recognition for its capacity to resolve high-resolution structures of macromolecules, and deservingly, was the topic of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This recent spike in attention to cryo-EM has developed a major need for training tools for incoming scientists. To this end, funding institutions such as NIH, have set aside funds to help develop tools such as website, online courses, and videos for cryo-EM newcomers. In May 2018, the Purdue cryo-EM facility was recently awarded an NIH grant to develop VR pre-training tools for cryo-EM. The PI’s on this grant include Dr. Yingjie Victor Chen, Dr. Wen Jiang,  and Dr. Tommy Sors.

The goal of Purdue’s NIH Cryo-EM VR Training grant is to develop Virtual Reality pre-training tools for familiarizing new users with cryo-EM equipment, such as the microscope and plunge-freezing instruments, through a safe, easily accessible, virtual environment.

By introducing new users to equipment through VR, there is no risk of harming expensive materials. Also, pre-training through VR does not take time out of regular instrument usage—a major hurdle in current training regimens.

Additionally, by developing cryo-EM VR tools, we hope to engage in more community outreach. Communication from the scientific community to the general public can be difficult, but we aim to use our VR equipment to interact with members of the public and convey the importance of scientific research.

We expect to achieve our goal by modeling and creating tutorials for the general steps in the current cryo-EM experimentation workflow as described below.

The general Cryo-EM workflow:

CryoVR pre-training modules to learn more about cryo-EM sample freezing:

At the beginning of our project, we decided to start by simulating a commonly used instrument, the Gatan CP3, used for vitrification of cryo-EM  samples. The use of this instrument requires a lot of hands-on operation and many auxiliary pieces. We have currently developed a self-guided Gatan CP3 pre-training module. We are adding the finishing touches and the last piece remaining to develop is the addition of the evaluation.

  • The Thermofisher Vitrobot Mark IV pre-training module

We have very recently completed the development of a cryo-EM vitrification tool called the Thermofisher Vitrobot Mark IV. This equipment carries out the process of cryo-fixation under consistent physical and mechanical settings, such as temperature, relative humidity, blotting conditions, and freezing velocity. By doing this, high-quality cryo-fixation outcomes and a rapid sample preparation throughput prior to cryo-TEM observation are guaranteed.

CryoVR pre-training modules to learn more about cryo-EM data collection:

  • Thermofisher Talos cold side-entry holder pre-training module
  • Side-entry holder vacuum pump storage pre-training module
  • Thermofisher Titan Krios cassette loading pre-training module

CryoVR pre-training modules to learn more about cryo-EM image processing:

  • Virtual, self-guided image processing cryo-EM image processing module

If you want to learn more about the process of cryoEM, here are two informative online curriculums, CryoEM 101 provided by University of Utah and also Getting Started in CryoEM Video Lectures at the California Institute of Technology