Biophysical Analysis at Northwestern University

The Keck Biophysics Facility at Northwestern University

The Keck Biophysics Facility provides researchers 24-hour access to a collection of advanced instruments for biophysical characterization of macromolecules and their interactions. The facility also provides staff services, specialized training and technical expertise.

The facility is continually evaluating and implementing new technologies that would be prohibitively expensive to purchase and operate in individual research laboratories.

Structural Biophysics

Using principles of chemistry and physics, scientists in this area use a broad range of techniques to study the structure and dynamics of biological molecules. Determining the atomic structures of proteins, nucleic acids, and other macromolecules is essential to understanding how they function and how mutations or deletions in these molecules lead to diseases.

The Keck Biophysics Facility provides research groups at Northwestern with access to state of the art equipment, outstanding services and technical expertise for integrated analyses of macromolecular structure, interactions and function. The facility also plays a critical role in supporting Lurie Cancer Center (LCC) researchers by offering advanced capabilities such as multichannel surface plasmon resonance and bio-layer interferometry that are not typically available in academic core laboratories due to cost and operator expertise.

The facility’s services are primarily funded through the annual NIH Shared Instrument Grant (SIG) program and by institutional funding. These resources enable investigators to submit competitive grant applications that require the use of advanced biotechnology tools.

Molecular Interactions

The Keck Biophysics Facility provides research groups at Northwestern with state-of-the art equipment, outstanding services, and specialized training and assistance. It houses a set of 22 advanced instruments for integrated studies of macromolecular structure and interactions.

The biophysics team performs static light scattering (SLS) experiments to determine molar masses and radii of gyration for biological molecules in solution. This information is important for determining the oligomeric status of complexes and association stoichiometry.

Molecular imaging at the cellular level using a variety of optical modalities including atomic force microscopy, magnetic resonance, and in vivo fluorescence and luminescence. The biophysics team is able to provide a wide range of services from sample preparation and imaging through image analysis.

Located in Ryan Hall on the Evanston campus, the biophysics core facility offers world class instrumentation for the characterization of biological and soft matter samples. The facility includes a suite of instruments for scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy at both cryogenic and ambient temperatures.

Biochemical Analysis

Over the years, the Keck Laboratory has expanded its scope and instrumentation to include a number of state-of-the-art technologies. These include a high-throughput analysis system for protein, lipid and nucleic acid samples. These instruments use cation exchange HPLC with external calibration to quantify amino acids in acid hydrolysates of cell/tissue extracts, proteins or peptides and in similar unhydrolyzed samples. Post-column ninhydrin derivatization allows separation of the amino acids into their component monomers for further quantitative analysis.

Another major capability is mass spectrometry, with the ability to perform both protein and phosphoproteome profiling. The Facility also offers a broad range of other biochemical analyses.

The Keck lab is committed to training its users and the Yale community about the various techniques that it uses. This training is provided through individual consultations, workshops, seminars, Web-based training, and user groups. In addition, the Keck lab trains core laboratory staff at outside institutions on its instruments and methods. The Keck lab also offers educational opportunities for its users at Yale and other institutions through poster sessions and invited talks at scientific meetings.


Microscopy is the process of using a microscope to observe objects that cannot be easily seen by the naked eye. Microscopy is a vital tool in many scientific fields including cell biology, chemistry, physics, nanotechnology, and pharmacology.

The Keck Biophysics Facility provides research groups at Northwestern with state of the art equipment, outstanding services, specialized training and technical expertise. As one of Northwestern’s Shared Research Core Facilities, the Biophysics Facility supports research in the areas of macromolecular structure, dynamics and interactions.

The most common form of microscopy is the light microscope which uses transmitted visible light to develop magnified images of a sample. The resolution of a light microscope is limited by the diffraction of light waves. This limits the ability to distinguish two adjacent structures as separate and therefore requires staining of samples with dyes. Other types of optical microscopy include Differential Interference Contrast Microscopy and Scanning Probe Microscopy which use electrons rather than light to develop an image of a sample.

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