Research equipment at the Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS).

Research equipment at the Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS).

Shared Facilities Reduce Costs and Improve Productivity

At Cornell, biophysics students use the most sophisticated research facilities devoted to X-ray crystallography, optical, laser and magnetic resonance spectroscopy and computation.


The Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), produces intense X-ray beams useful for scientific studies ranging from solid-state physics and chemistry to biology. The facility is capable of wide- and small-angle scattering, XAFS (X ray absorption fine structure) and macromolecular crystallography. With X-ray beams compressed to one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair, CHESS can characterize materials at an unprecedented resolution. A national resource built and operated largely with funds from the National Science Foundation, CHESS attracts distinguished visiting scientists from all over the world.

MacCHESS, the Macromolecular Diffraction Facility at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, is used by investigators throughout the world for research on novel applications of synchrotron radiation to problems involving physical biochemistry and biomedical research. Its specialties include multiple wavelength anomalous diffraction (MAD), ultrahigh resolution X-ray diffraction and the development of new apparatus and techniques. Crystallographic studies of pathogenic viruses and toxins can be done in the high-level
biohazard containment facility. One of MacCHESS’s highly successful advancements is the development and utilization of ultrafast and highly sensitive CCD (charge-coupled device) detectors. Solution scattering studies allow determination of the size and shape of proteins and nucleic acids in solution. MacCHESS is funded by the National Institutes of Health.


Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, MRSEC, constitute a spectrum of coordinated Centers of differing scientific breadth and administrative complexity that may address any area, or several areas, of materials research. MRSECs bring together researchers with diverse expertise – in partnership with industry, government laboratories, and/or partners from other sectors – to address complex, interdisciplinary challenges in materials research, to integrate research with education both internally and through a variety of partnership activities. The MRSEC supports projects that are too complex and multi-faceted for individuals or small groups of researchers to tackle on their own.

The CCMR currently supports three Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs) and a number of smaller ‘seed’ research groups through an NSF MRSEC grant and Cornell University support. Each group brings researchers from a variety of different departments together to work on an outstanding interdisciplinary problem in materials research and development. The research teams are chosen through periodic competitions which include external review by international experts in the field. Faculty participants are drawn from the more than 100 faculty in the CCMR. These faculty span 12 departments and 4 colleges at Cornell. In addition, the research teams are strengthened by collaborations with academic and industrial researchers from around the world.

Biotechnology Resource Center

The Center for Advanced Technology in Biotechnology, also known as the Biotechnology Resource Center, is equipped with support facilities for research in biophysics, including automated DNA and peptide synthesis; amino acid analysis and sequencing; computerized protein DNA and RNA sequence analysis; matrix-assisted laser desorption mass spectroscopy and fluorescence imaging, confocal microscopy and video microscopy services-plus a fermentation center and a plant cell culture and transformation facility. The center funds research on campus, provides a venue for students and faculty members to interact with representatives of industry and sponsors seminars and workshops of interest to biophysics students.

Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility

The Cornell Nanoscale Facility functions as the core of a rapidly advancing area of scientific and technological opportunity that applies the tools and processes of nano/microfabrication to build devices for studying biosystems. Researchers learn from biology to create new micro-nanoscale devices to better understand life processes at the nanoscale. The Nanobiotechnology Center (NBTC), a National Science Foundation, Science and Technology Center is characterized by its highly interdisciplinary nature and features a close collaboration between life scientists, physical scientists, and engineers. We also share a commitment to education and outreach, taking the discoveries from the laboratory and realizing their potential benefit to society.

The NBTC shared facility is a user-oriented research and education facility, designed to advance interdisciplinary programs in nanobiotechnology. It is open to NBTC faculty, staff, students and affiliates, the Cornell community, and researchers from other academic institutions and industry. The industrial access is enhanced and promoted with funding from the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR). The facility has equipment located in Duffield and Clark Hall and offers a full range of capabilities and services for design, fabrication, and characterization of substrates and devices for nanobiotechnology. NBTC cleanroom tools (see below for details) process and fabricate novel materials and substrates. Chemical and bio-processing labs on the second floor provide capabilities required to functionalize and charcterize substrates and materials for nanobiotechnology research.

Other Campus-Wide Facilities

Many specialized techniques central to modern life sciences research are best performed in shared facilities to minimize costs and improve productivity. Several facilities have been established at Cornell and are staffed by personal with expertise in those techniques. Facilities commonly used by Biophysics faculty and students are listed below.

The Developmental Resource for Biophysical Imaging Opto-Electronics uses and develops new technology in physical optics, lasers and computation to develop innovative experimental methods in optical microscopy for studying molecular mechanisms in cellular biophysics. One of the Resource’s breakthroughs is in the application of two-photon spectroscopy and imaging to biological systems. The facility is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy.

The Biomolecular NMR Center is dedicated to the study of the architecture and internal motions of biological macromolecules (proteins, RNA and DNA). Housed in the Biotechnology Building, the center features a 14.1 tesla (600 MHz) NMR spectrometer fully capable of performing the most challenging, high-resolution NMR experiments. The spectrometer, a Varian Unity INOVA, embodies the latest advances in NMR technology, including four radio frequency channels and pulsed field gradients.

Weill Hall and Biotechnology Building - aerial view

The Cornell Center for Advanced Computing houses a high-performance computing facility that has major biophysical applications, including computation of the energetics of protein folding, molecular dynamics simulation of macromolecules and novel uses of computer
graphics. The CAC provides over 700 computing nodes in a variety of serial and parallel configurations to Cornell researchers and is connected to the national NSF-supported Teragrid high-end computing resource. The Computational Biology Service Unit within the CAC
maintains an extensive suite of computational biology software and consults and collaborates on Cornell research projects requiring expertise in genomics, proteomics, data mining, or structural and computational biology.