Last Monday was the grand opening celebration of a new field-emission scanning electron microscope (SEM), an instrument funded by a $546,273 grant awarded by the National Science Foundation to Pomona College and Harvey Mudd College. Housed in Seaver South, the new SEM replaces a 15-year-old microscope and magnifies materials like fibers, cells, particles, minerals, diatom and nanostructures at size scales ranging from inches to nanometers, and magnifications from 10 times to one million times. The SEM is available for use by faculty and approved, trained students throughout the Claremont Colleges free of charge.

As well as having a higher resolution capacity than the prior microscope, the new SEM is user-friendly, faster and has a range of detection options.

Unlike most colleges and universities, using Pomona's microscope facility is free; for example, UC Riverside charges $145 per hour. And what might have taken 30 minutes to analyze may now take 30 seconds. Because of these policies and improvements, students have access to an instrument they could otherwise not afford and might not have time to use.

"You might actually find something that you would have otherwise drove by," said Harvey Mudd Professor of Chemistry Hal van Ryswyk.

Once a professor vouches for a student's project, there is a two- to three-hour training session, after which students can reserve time on the SEM through an online system.

Ryan Dodson '15 is doing research with Pomona College Professor of Chemistry Charles Taylor, studying the structure and growth kinetics of vanadium oxide crystals grown using chemical vapor deposition, and its implications in microhotplate-based gas sensor systems. He uses the electron microscope to observe the structures of these crystals on the nanometer scale—research that wouldn't be possible without it, he says.

"It's really exciting to have a really sophisticated instrument that students can run by themselves," said President David Oxtoby.

Led by Pomona College Professor of Physics David Tanenbaum, there are six other principal investigators from Pomona and Harvey Mudd: Robert Gaines (Pomona, geology), Jade Star Lackey (Pomona, geology), Nancy Lape (Harvey Mudd, engineering), Elizabeth Orwin (Harvey Mudd, engineering and biology), Hal van Ryswyk (Harvey Mudd, chemistry) and Charles Taylor (Pomona, chemistry).

In his remarks at the celebration, Tanenbaum mentioned the long history of great research facilities and collaborations in Claremont. "This is a marriage of those ideas," Tanenbaum said. "It is unlikely either college could have made this happen alone.  Together we did something extraordinary."

Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe concurred. "It's just a huge step forward for science and engineering at the Claremont Colleges."