Scanning electron microscope offers nanoscale views

When Fehmi Damkaci peers at the computer monitor next to the gleaming electron gun of the college’s new scanning electron microscope, he sees the future — a vital piece of equipment for the sciences and their new home.

As the nanoscale — a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter — images appear in high definition, Damkaci reminisces about having to travel to Syracuse to obtain sample data about atomic structures that were once only theorized … and not being able to touch the machine.

Chemistry Professor Fehmi Damkaci and field engineer Martin Jones explore the Japan Electron Optical Laboratory, a scanning electron microscope that provides nanoscale views.

“This has been used mostly by nanotechnology-related research and engineering,” said Damkaci, associate professor of chemistry and project leader for acquisition and implementation of the scanning electron microscope, or SEM. “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 Japanese Electron Optical Lab, or JEOL, JSM-6610LV currently housed in Snygg Hall.

“I started teaching nanotechnology, and I’m planning to apply for a [National Science Foundation] grant to increase nanotech education on campus,” Damkaci said. Students have already been training to use the equipment. “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,” he added. “Now, when they graduate, they will be able to say, ‘I know how to use an SEM,’ and that makes our students more marketable.”

With more than $1 trillion in federal and state funds expected over the next few years, job growth to support this explosion would leap from 150,000 nanotechnology workers in 2008 to 800,000 in 2015 nationally, a National Nanotechnology Initiative 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.”

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