Editorial August 10 2018

It makes a lot of sense that the answer to life’s biggest questions may be found in the most microscopic of detail.

Our front page of the Illawarra Mercury on Friday, ‘Celling the Dream’, recognises a hugely significant moment of time for this region, the University of Wollongong and even the nation.

Yet the significance is indeed that researchers will have the ability to look at the world in the most minute fashion possible and hopefully answer some of the big questions facing humankind. Like, “just how can we cure cancer?” or “what does cause motor neuron disease?”.

These questions that have puzzled us as a society could be unlocked by researchers and scientists now able to look into a microscope able to capture life in its most tiny of fragments. 

The University of Wollongong’s (UOW) three-metre tall, one tonne FEI ThermoFisher Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope became operational on Thursday, August 9 2018. After being unveiled at its temporary home at ANSTO in Lucas Heights it will move to its permanent home of the UOW’s Molecular Horizons building when it is completed by the end of 2019.

The microscope uses electrons not light to look at moleules.  A stream of high-energy electrons fire through a frozen sample, generating multiple two-dimensional images that scientists then convert to three-dimensional models of molecules, visualising their nano-sized loops and chains. For molecular scientists it gives them a chance to “see” rather than “suspect”. 

“The driving philosophy of Molecular Horizons is to use visualisation as an enabler for scientific discovery. Seeing is believing, after all,” world renowned scientist Professor van Oijen said.

The magnitude of the occasion for the Illawarra can not be overstated. 

Actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29 in 1991 once said: “Medical science has proven time and again that when the resources are provided, great progress in the treatment, cure, and prevention of disease can occur.” 

The search for answers has officially been intensified. 

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