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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Joshua Rappoport, PhD, director of the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Nikon Imaging Center 

Joshua Rappoport, PhD

Joshua Rappoport, PhD, serves as director of the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Nikon Imaging Center at Feinberg. The Center supports research across the University through expertise, training and access to state-of-the-art imaging instruments. The facility’s services include electron microscopy, as well as light microscopy, and both fluorescent and bioluminescent animal imaging. 

Rappoport, also a research professor of Cell & Developmental Biology, is a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. 


What are your research interests?
My training as an undergraduate at Brown University was in classical comparative respiratory physiology, including an extended research project studying turtles that remain underwater for months each winter without breathing. I earned my PhD in the Division of Nephrology at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York, studying cellular urate transport. This is where I made the transition to molecular cell biology. I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Laboratory of Cellular Biophysics at The Rockefeller University, where we developed microscopy-based approaches to study vesicle trafficking and cell migration. This was really the key transitional phase in my scientific training that developed my lifelong love of microscopes, in particular, using fluorescence microscopy to watch life unfold in living cells in real-time. When I ran my own research lab, we focused on developing and applying live-cell imaging to study endocytosis, in particular, activated growth factor receptors and manufactured nanomaterials.  

Now that I am a full-time core facility scientist, my main focus is supporting the microscopy needs of our user base.

What is the ultimate goal of the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Nikon Imaging Center?
We offer expertise, instruction and support to our user base in the areas of light and electron microscopy. In particular, we try to balance the need for adequate capacity for routine microscopy approaches with providing access to cutting-edge instrumentation and applications.

How is the Center funded?
Our facility is funded through a mixed model. We rely primarily on revenue via recharge, which means direct payment for the services we provide and support. However, we also receive extremely generous support from both Feinberg and the Lurie Cancer Center, for uses ranging from staff salaries to supporting new initiatives and investing in new equipment for the facility. Furthermore, as a Nikon Imaging Center, we receive significant direct and indirect support from Nikon Instruments, Inc.

Who makes up your team and what role does each individual play?
We have a total of seven staff members working in the facility, apart from myself. As the director, I handle much of the administrative responsibilities and strategic leadership, along with support from our Faculty Advisory Committee, in particular the chair of our FAC, Volodya Gelfand, PhD.

Constadina (Dina) Arvanitis, PhD, is the manager of the Nikon Imaging Center and is responsible for all things Nikon in the facility. Peter Dluhy is the primary point of contact for our confocal laser scanning microscopes. Wensheng (Wilson) Liu, MD, handles many of our other light microscopes. David Kirchenbuechler, PhD, is our Image Analysis Specialist. Lennell Reynolds, Jr. is primarily focused on Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), including TEM sample preparation. Farida Korobova, PhD, mainly works on advanced TEM techniques, such as immuno-gold TEM as well as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). The newest member of our team is Yashema Hunter, who is helping out with TEM sample preparation.

Which honors are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of the awards that we’ve won from the Office for Research every year since I’ve been at Northwestern. This demonstrates the continued excellence of our facility among a truly outstanding group of cores university-wide.

Who inspires you? Or, who are your mentors?
Phil Hockberger, PhD, in the Office for Research has been a fantastic mentor. He has shown me the best ways that core facilities can be run in an integrated model within a complex network of schools, departments and centers. 

Scientifically, my postdoctoral advisor from The Rockefeller, Sandy Simon, PhD, really opened up my mind to the best application of the scientific method. In particular, microscopy can be prone to a search for a single pretty picture, but working with Sandy we always sought conclusions that were subject to rigorous statistical testing, rather than simply qualitative results.

Finally, there is a long list of scientists at Northwestern University and beyond that have served as mentors or role models, including Bob Goldman, PhD, and Volodya Gelfand, PhD, in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, John Heath from the University of Birmingham, where I was previously a faculty member, and especially my PhD supervisor Ruth Abramson, MD, who unfortunately passed away while I was a postdoc.