New scanning electron microscope offers nanoscale views

SUNY Oswego recently welcomed a new scanning electron microscope, a key piece of equipment for the sciences complex rising on campus and for recruiting top students who want to learn nanotechnology skills.

Fehmi Damkaci, assistant professor of chemistry, and Martin Jones of JEOL look over microscope.Fehmi Damkaci, associate professor of chemistry and project leader for acquisition and implementation of the scanning electron microscope (SEM), said preparing students for careers in nanotechnology will help position the college to serve a booming market.

“I started teaching nanotechnology, and I’m planning to apply for an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant to increase nanotech education on campus,” he said. “Having an SEM on site for educational purposes—that’s great. Currently we just teach it, but students don’t get to see an SEM. Now, when they graduate, they will be able to say, ‘I know how to use an SEM,’ and that makes our students more marketable.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that International Technology Group, led by Intel and IBM, would invest $4.4 billion in the state to create the next generation of computer chip technology—along with 2,500 additional high-technology positions from Albany to Canandaigua and retention of 4,000 more.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative forecast last year that the global economic impact of nanotechnology products would top $1 trillion by 2015. Nationally, job growth to support this explosion would leap from 150,000 nanotechnology workers in 2008 to 800,000 in 2015, the NNI report noted.

“The report also says that by 2012-13, nanotechnology will be a common field of study in undergraduate science education,” Damkaci said. “We are positioning ourselves right now just ahead of that phase.”

‘Thin’ redefined

View from microscope.On the scanning electron microscope’s adjacent computer screen, nanoscale—a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter—images appear in high definition.

“This has been used mostly by nanotechnology-related research and engineering,” Damkaci said. “But now the use of the equipment has extended into biology and materials science and anthropology, geology—all different areas.”

The college already has a room planned in its rising $118 million Sciences and Engineering Innovation Corridor for the new JEOL (Japanese Electron Optical Lab) JSM-6610LV. For now, the unit and its associated equipment—such as a chamber to apply an ultrathin coating of gold to selected samples—are in the chemistry instrument lab in Snygg Hall.

Faculty from various science departments began training on the new equipment in early October with a senior engineer for JEOL. Damkaci said he expects eager students will not be far behind.

Exploring materials

The scanning electron microscope uses a focused beam of electrons to bombard the surface of objects—large and small, thick and thin—in a vacuum chamber. The new equipment includes several sample holders for materials at thicknesses down to thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

Electron-sample interactions generate activity that helps reveal topography, characteristics and properties of materials ranging from Au (gold) to Zn (zinc).

“In materials sciences, you have to quantify what you make, and this is one of the more common ways to show what you made,” Damkaci said.

The new equipment also includes a unit that analyzes X-rays emitted during the interactions, offering additional capability to report what atoms are present in a material and an estimate of quantities, he said. Later on, he expects the college will add equipment that is highly precise about quantity, Damkaci said, all of which can help Oswego recruit talented future scientists and science educators.

PHOTO CAPTION 1: Scanning the future—Fehmi Damkaci, associate professor of chemistry at SUNY Oswego, and Martin Jones, senior engineer for JEOL (Japanese Electron Optical Lab), focus on images supplied by the college’s new scanning electron microscope. Damkaci said the nanoscale-capable machine will help to attract top students and enable cutting-edge research.

PHOTO CAPTION 2: Thin is in—The SUNY Oswego science departments’ new scanning electron microscope displays a grid of nickel, upper left, at a thickness of 100 nanometers—100 billionths of a meter. The device can display samples at thicknesses to 3 nanometers in high resolution. It provides SUNY Oswego students and faculty a window into the nanoscale world that is revolutionizing materials science and other fields and providing jobs by the thousand in New York state alone.

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(Posted: Oct 12, 2011)

Tags: vitality, science, research, nanotechnology, nanoscience, innotech, chemistry, biology, biological sciences