Anything Glows: Engineering a Sustainable Future with Fluorescence

Dr. Kristin Moore
University of Colorado-Boulder
CU Science Discovery Teen Cafe


Written by Youth Leader Kevin Yang

At our most recent science cafe, postdoctoral researcher Kristin Moore and her lab mates gave a fun, hands-on lab tour of the Sustainability, Energy and Environment Laboratory at CU Boulder. Dr. Moore’s research group studies the physiology, cell biology, and biochemistry of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are a phylum of photosynthetic bacteria that were the first to produce oxygen in photosynthesis and thus create oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. Dr. Moore’s group uses fluorescence microscopy to study these organisms and their role in generating food, fuel, green chemicals, and other useful products that will be needed for a sustainable future.

On the lab tour, Dr. Moore and her lab mates showed us the tools they use in their lab, including a robot that can pipette and also act as a growth chamber, and and their fluorescence microscope. We also learned about the timeline of the emergence of plants/animals (as well as how it relates to cyanobacteria) and how fluorescence works.

Hands on Activity

Teens rotated from activity to activity in a few groups. At one station, teens chronologically sorted events in Earth’s history, ranging from “first flowering plants” to “formation of the first rocks.” After cyanobacteria came about, causing the Great Oxygenation Event, the door was open to the formation of the first complex multicellular organisms. At another station, Dr. Moore showed the group how absorption and fluorescence (converting one wavelength of light to another) worked, using a hands-on experiment with colored filters. With a blue filter, a red circle drawn on a piece of paper appeared red, because the blue filter absorbs all of the light except for blue, and the blue is absorbed by the red circle.

At the next station, which took place in the lab, the pipetting robot was demonstrated, which automated the process of cultivating and using spectroscopy to characterize cyanobacteria samples. At yet another station, postdoc Colin Gates showed students the fluorescence microscope used to study cyanobacteria. Samples that fluorescent dye was added to were lit up and visible under the microscope.