Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has set up a new electron microscopy lab fitted with equipment that will allow scientists to study molecular structures half a million times smaller than a grain of rice.

The NTU Cryo-Electron Microscopy Laboratory, helmed by renowned biologist Daniela Rhodes, is equipped with an advanced cryo transmission electron microscope called the Tecnai Arctica.

Cryo-electron microscopy is the process of imaging biological samples in a frozen state and it can capture individual particles within a cell, including chromosomes and viruses.

The microscope will enable NTU scientists to image structures of enzymes and macro-molecular complexes quicker and more accurately, which in turn will allow greater understanding of key biological processes relating to health and diseases, the university said yesterday.

The lab will also be equipped with an integrated light microscope for correlative light and electron microscopy imaging for cell biology applications. These microscopes will be used to facilitate both research and learning at NTU.

Bertil Andersson, president of NTU, said: "With these top-of-the-line electron microscopes, we are in a very good position to push the frontiers of biomedical science and medicine, and to yield breakthroughs, including in the areas of cancer biology and ageing.

"With a world-class facility, we also need world- class scientists, and at NTU we have some of the top names in electron microscopy, who will be able to use the new microscopes to their fullest potential and develop innovative bio-imaging techniques for cutting-edge research."

One of the research groups using the lab will be Prof Rhodes's group, which will study cancer development and ageing, areas that recently landed her a $24 million grant from the Ministry of Education. Prof Rhodes's career includes 42 years at Cambridge University's MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

"It is our hope that with such powerful instruments, we can make new discoveries," she said. "Only by understanding the inner workings of proteins and enzymes related to ageing and cancer, can we start to look for and to develop solutions to treat such conditions."