Pomona College & Harvey Mudd College Receive $546,273 Grant for Field-Emission Scanning Electron Microscope
The Pomona Petrology research group, led by Jade Star Lackey, investigates magma diversification and contamination in complementary metamorphic and fluid flow processes in igneous and metamorphic rocks in magmatic arc terranes. Primary tools of the research include complete SEM petrographic characterization of samples (including the garnet, quartz and zircon shown above) using high-resolution imaging.
Pomona College and Harvey Mudd College have received a $546,273 National Science Foundation grant for a new field-emission scanning electron microscope (FE-SEM). This type of microscope can image analyze fibers, cells, particles, minerals and new materials at size scales ranging from inches to nanometers, corresponding to magnifications from 10 times to one million times, which is significantly better than any traditional optical microscope. The new instrument will be available to students and faculty throughout the Claremont Colleges.
The collaborative grant proposal was led by Professor David Tanenbaum in physics. The four co-principal investigators were Professor Charles Taylor, Pomona chemistry; and Harvey Mudd College Professors Nancy Lape, engineering; Elizabeth Orwin, engineering and biology, and Hal Van Ryswyk, chemistry. The group also included Robert Gaines and Jade Star Lackey of Pomona’s Geology Department as senior investigators.
Plans call for the new microscope to be installed on the Pomona campus before the end of the spring semester. It will replace a 13-year-old FE-SEM instrument that, over the last four years, has been used by more than 150 people, almost all undergraduates, for more than 1,000 sessions.
According to Tanenbaum, “The new instrument will take sharper images at higher magnifications, better than 2 nanometers, and enable some new types of imaging techniques with different detectors. It will also support larger beam currents, which means faster data acquisition for some types of experiments. Students will spend much more of their time collecting data than setting up the instrument. Depending on which instrument we get, there will be other new features as well.”
The new machine will also be able to use several accessories on the current system that are still state of the art. These include the EDS (energy dispersive x-ray spectrometer), the electron beam pattern generator and a dedicated cathodoluminesence CL detector.
Once installed, the instrument will be available for use to students and faculty through an online reservation system. The grant proposal focused on the instrument’s usefulness in three main research areas:
- Materials for Energy and the Environment: In this area, the proposed instrument would support important imaging in several projects: Low-cost, high-stability polymer solar cells; dye-sensitized solar cells with porphyrin sensitizers on zinc oxide nanotubes; Inorganic/organic composite gas separation membranes for low-energy separations; and environmental monitoring involving combinatorial materials research for chemical microsensor and microanalytical system development.
- Bioengineering: Among other projects in this area, the instrument would support projects on tissue engineering a cornea, and chitosan nanoparticle synthesis.
- Geology: Two major projects in this area include igneous and metamorphic petrology relating to magma diversification and contamination, and geomicrobiology and sedimentary geology for research on the interactions between the biosphere and the geosphere over long timescales.
Pomona College has a long history of providing opportunities for students to be involved in significant research, and many faculty members have coauthored articles in peer-reviewed journals with students. The College maintains a variety of sophisticated, research-grade equipment including a 400Mhz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, an atomic force microscope, a scanning tunneling microscope, optical microscopes, optical spectrometers, vapor pressure osmometer and an X-ray diffractometer.
Research has always been central to the Harvey Mudd undergraduate educational experience as well. In 2008, the NSF publication Baccalaureate Origins of S&E Doctorate Recipients cited HMC as the most productive baccalaureate institution in terms of the proportion of its graduates who eventually earn a doctorate.
For faculty and students, sometimes the lab is where the class material comes alive in exciting ways. “Providing undergraduate students with the opportunity to work with sophisticated instrumentation provides motivation to discuss a variety of specialized topics,” notes the proposal, “and can be a key factor in encouraging students to pursue further scientific research, graduate studies or industrial research positions.”