Hockmeyer Hall: The House of Microscopes

By Kenny Nguyen

29 January 2016

On October 19, 2007, Purdue University introduced the new Wayne and Mary Hockmeyer Hall, which is located adjacent to Discovery Park at the intersection of Harrison Street and Martin Jischke Drive. The $30 million, 65,000-square-foot building currently houses the Purdue Center for Structural Biology research group. The inception of Hockmeyer Hall has played a pivotal role in allowing Purdue’s renowned structural biology group to be the pioneers of this field.

Just as astronauts require better telescopes to see further into space, structural biologists require better microscopes to see atomic, macroscopic structures.  For the past century, Purdue biologists have used microscopes to make key discoveries.  For example, Dr. Michael Rossmann, the Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, was the first to map the entire genome of a human cold virus down to the atomic level.  This could not have been done without the usage of high precision electron microscopes.

Hockmeyer houses a total of four electron microscopes, two of which are advanced high-end cryoelectron microscopes that allow researchers to see nearly down to the molecular level.  The FEG200 and FEG300 cryoelectron microscopes are housed in an environmentally-isolated suite built in Hockmeyer specially to house these instruments.  In addition to these four, a 2009 grant from the National Institutes of Health allowed for a new $4 million Titan cryoelectron microscope to be installed.  The FEI Titan Krios microscope is the most advanced electron microscope currently available, having accessories that permit examination of twelve frozen hydrated samples at a time, energy filter to improve tomograms, and imaging down to individual molecules and atoms.  The microscope also acts as an automaton, capable of running for days without human contact.  Scientists at Hockmeyer can remotely operate and monitor from the “visualization room,” the control center of the new facility.

“Hockmeyer Hall could lead Purdue to new breakthroughs in understanding how important groups of human viruses infect cells,” said Dr. Richard Kuhn, head of the Department of Biological Sciences.  The high-end equipment and facilities, along with increased collaboration, will allow the full potential of one of Purdue’s most renowned research groups to become the forefront of structural biology.