Frequently Asked Questions

Please feel free to contact EMCIF if you have further questions about our services.

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How do I become an EMCIF user?

EMCIF services are open to researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, other academic institutions and for-profit organizations. Before EMCIF can initiate a work order, a user must first register to acquire a EMCIF ID and account number. Each EMCIF account is set up by a research group where the principal investigator is the account holder. Members from the same research group will have individual EMCIF IDs but will share the same account number, username and password. To acquire a EMCIF ID, please use the online registration form. UMB users must provide valid/current chart string information and the email address of a finance manager (for billing purposes). Non-UMB users, please contact EMCIF directly to set up an account. A $50 registration fee will be assessed for each registration.

How do I initiate a new project with EMCIF?

We strongly encourage first-time users to make an appointment with the EMCIF Director to discuss the aim of the project. The more information you provide, the better EMCIF will be able to assist you with the project. The director will be able to advise you as to how to prepare the sample and schedule the appropriate sample drop off time.

How much does it cost to process one TEM sample?

Service charges for each EM project depend on the type of project and and type of specimen. A conservative estimate is about $250 for processing one specimen for conventional TEM. This includes $100 for Epon resin embedding, $50 for ultra-thin sectioning, and $60 to $120 for 30 minutes to an hour of assisted TEM usage to acquire images. Immuno EM sample processing starts at $150 for the first sample as the reagents are more expensive and more bench time is required. However, if multiple specimens are delivered at the same time, sample processing charges from the 2nd to the 12th sample are reduced. Please refer to our EMCIF Fee Schedule for detailed pricing information. Researchers are also encouraged to register for scope training to acquire images by themselves at a reduced self-use rate ($25 per 30 min).

How are the processing charges for 12 specimens calculated?

The fee for each sample processing and experimental procedure is determined based on the cost of reagents and the amount of bench time required to complete the task. Using 12 SEM samples as an example, processing for the first SEM sample is charged at $100/specimen and each additional sample is charged at $12 per specimen. Thus, a total of 12 SEM sample processing will cost $100 + $12 x 11 = $232. It is a little more complicated to calculate but we believe this is a much more reasonable pricing system than having a flat rate for each specimen. It is thus more economical to try to have your specimens delivered and processed in batches rather than submitting one specimen for processing at a time.  EMCIF Fee Schedule

How long does it take before I can get my results?

For conventional SEM samples, it will take one and a half to two days to dehydrate the sample, sputter coat and mount before samples are ready for observation. TEM samples requiring embedding and ultra thin sectioning may take up to a week. Negatively stained samples can normally be done in one or two days as well. The time frame given above is based on the most optimal scenario. Please take into consideration that demands on services are high and EMCIF is often oversubscribed; therefore experiments may be delayed when there are multiple samples needing to be processed in the same time.

How do I prepare my sample before bringing it to EMCIF?

In general, we recommend users to bring in samples immersed in fixative. It is particularly important for bio-hazardous samples. The EMCIF laboratory is not a certified BSL2 laboratory. All human pathogens and infectious materials need to be inactivated before entering the premises. Fixation is a most critical step in electron microscopy. Proper fixation ensures preservation of the ultrastructure of the sample. There are many different fixation methods and fixative compositions to choose from depending on the type of specimen and the objectives of the experiments. Please discuss with EMCIF Director or staff before you plan your experiments or before preparing your specimen. EMCIF will provide you with the appropriate fixative and clear instructions for the fixation step.

Is there a preferred time of the day to bring in my EM specimen?

The best time is first thing in the morning around 9 a.m. This gives EMCIF staff enough time to complete the required processing steps before overnight incubation. Specimens delivered in the afternoon will not be processed until the next day. Processing of many EM specimens processing requires two days. Therefore, specimens delivered on Friday may have to be stored in fixative during the weekend. Although extended fixation may not affect ultrastructure in some cases, it is also known that prolonged incubation in fixative may alter antigenicity. We therefore highly recommend users to pre-schedule sample drop off and deliver specimens no later than at Thursday 9 a.m. to ensure timely processing.

Why do I have to pre-schedule sample drop off?

We highly recommend users to contact the EMCIF Director before planning an EM project. The EMCIF Director will be able to advise you on whether the facility can handle your project at this time. It is particularly critical if you have an urgent need for a specific specimen processing, or need imaging data before a certain date, or if your samples require immediate attention. We recommend users to inform EMCIF a week in advance and schedule a sample drop off time so EMCIF will allocate time to process your specimen without delay. Walk-in samples without pre-scheduling will be processed in the order of delivery after all pre-scheduled samples are processed.

Can I request certain non-standard procedures to be performed for a particular sample?

EMCIF encourages users to explore challenging EM techniques to expand our experience with the most up-to-date techniques that are available. We will be happy to discuss with you the possibility of including non-routine steps required for your research. However, such procedures should be discussed in advance with the EMCIF Director. The researchers will be expected to provide references that clearly explain the purpose of these procedures and expectations. Additional charges may also be incurred if these extra steps require special reagents or extended commitment of EMCIF technical staff.

I do not have time to learn to use electron microscopes. Can someone take images for me?

Yes, we do provide services to observe samples and take images for users. Users should provide EMCIF staff relevant literature references, clearly describe the ultrastructure of interest and provide specific details regarding the types and numbers of images required. Scope hours will be charged at the ”assisted usage" rate.

Can I learn to use the electron microscope even if I know little about the electron optics?

Both transmission and scanning electron microscopes are designed for multi-user facilities and are relatively easy to operate. EMCIF offers regular one-on-one basic scope operation training, and group trainings to teach users basic scope navigation and imaging acquisition. Most users can operate the scope comfortably after a couple hours of practice, even with minimum knowledge of electron microscope configurations. Furthermore, EMCIF staff are available to answer any questions and assist when needed.

Is there an electron microscopy course that I can take?

Individual scope operation and EM techniques trainings are offered on a fee for service basis. EMCIF also organizes a yearly “Current EM Techniques Workshop”, an “Ultramicrotomy Mini-Course”, “Lunch and Learn” sessions, etc. At the moment, a course titled "Microscopy Fundamentals and Modern Imaging Applications" is offered through GPILS; it includes an introduction of electron microscopy and LM-EM correlative studies.

Can I use the microscope after office hours?

In general, we prefer users to use our facility during regular work hours when technical staff is available to answer questions. EM users who have received basic scope operation training and have more than 30 hours of scope usage, may take an advanced scope training. Once users demonstrate their competence in independent scope operation and basic trouble shooting skills, access to the facility after work hours can be granted.

How can I reduce the cost of my EM research?

The easiest way to reduce the cost of EM related research is to take the scope operation training and acquire images by yourself. This will cut down the scope usage charges by more than half. EMCIF also provide training for most EM techniques upon request. Careful planning and preparation will also minimize potential problems, such as missing controls, improper sample preparation, or delay in sample processing. Researchers are strongly encouraged to consult with the EMCIF Director before planning a new EM research project. When a large number of samples is involved, please consider a pilot project first to test out sample preparation protocols and projected outcome.

Why is there a surcharge added in my invoice?

A 25% surcharge is applied to the total service charges of non-SOM and non-SOD academic users. It is entered as a multiplication factor of 1.25 for the calculation of the total invoice amount. A 100% surcharge (multiplication factor of 2) is applied to the total charges of users from for-profit organizations. UM School of Medicine (SOM) and School of Dentistry (SOD) jointly support more than 50% of the operating costs of the EMCIF. Therefore, investigators from both schools benefit from reduced pricing when using EMCIF services.

Why is the total transaction amount listed in my journal entry twice as much as the total amount listed in my invoice?

The journal entry process involves debiting the invoiced amount from the user account and crediting the invoiced amount into the EMCIF account as two independent transactions. Therefore the total transaction amount is twice the invoiced amount.