Netherlands Center for Electron Nanoscopy (NeCEN) - Phase 1


Molecules, through their specific shape, charge distribution and dynamic flexibility, are the fundamental driving units of life. Establishing the molecular details of fundamental life processes, including those associated with disease, requires a type of microscopy that can zoom in beyond the wavelength of visible light. Transmission electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-TEM) is the leading technology in this field. Examples of medical research that hinge on the availability of the most advanced forms of electron microscopy include the investigation of structural aberrations of the cells of blood vessels in cardiac disease, mechanisms of infection by pathogens, molecular processes that form the root cause of cancer and the interactions of drugs with their protein targets.

The Netherlands has a strong tradition in electron microscopy and the major biological cryo-TEM centers of the Netherlands have joined forces in the NeCEN consortium . All these groups are convinced that the next steps in this field require a collaborative investment in a joint national facility for high resolution electron microscopy. All groups have excellent in-house facilities, but lack access to the absolute top microscopes that are, due to their purchase price and running costs (in excess of 10 MEuro), beyond the reach of virtually any individual research group. An investment of 6.8 MEuro for such a top microscope is requested in this grant proposal.

However, the purpose of this proposal is not just to secure a world-class electron microscope for the cryo-TEM groups of the Netherlands. Ultimately, the NeCEN initiative should lead to the establishment of a national large scale cryo-TEM research centre. Inspired by the scientific impact and success of large scale facilities such as synchrotrons, NeCEN's ambition is that all research groups (public and private, Dutch and international) that have a strong scientific and/or technological case for access to its infrastructure will be supported. Thus NeCEN promotes scientific and technological breakthroughs in an exciting, vibrant international environment, fully dedicated to top science.

Leiden University, the hosting institute, further supports NeCEN by allowing users access to relevant complementary infrastructure located in the Cell Observatory (computing facilities, cell- and tissue culture, X-ray, NMR, light microscopy, biochemistry and molecular biology facilities), which is housed right next to NeCEN. NeCEN - and therefore also this proposal - is currently supported by Leiden University, LUMC, TU Delft, EMC / EUR, University of Utrecht, RU Groningen, NKI, Amolf, TU Eindhoven and FEI, an industrial leader of electron microscopes.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. J. Brouwer

Affiliated with

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Wiskunde en Natuurwetenschappen, Leiden Institute of Chemistry


01/01/2011 to 21/09/2017