San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 22nd, 2010
Texas State to purchase electron microscope

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An image of an ant taken through a scanning electron microscope. Public domain image originally from the United States Geological Survey.

STAFF REPORT

Texas State University System (TSUS) regents have authorized the purchase of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to aid materials science research at Texas State.

The Helios NanoLab 400 DualBeam Scanning Electron Microscope from the FEI Company normally sells for $2.2 million, but Nikoleta Theodoropoulo of the physics department at Texas State negotiated a lower price. That price was not disclosed. The SEM will be funded by a combination of National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, Higher Education Assistance funds, Semiconductor Initiative Special Item appropriations, Research Development appropriations and budgeted departmental operating funds.

“This is an important tool for us,” said Tom Myers, director of Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization, and associate dean of science at Texas State. “It would be almost a show stopper for many of the things we do if we were not able to acquire this instrument. For us it is a very fundamental tool. It’s hard to do nanotechnology if you can’t see, manipulate and build things at that level. We needed a very good SEM to see things at a nano scale. This gives us that capability we did not have before.”

The NSF grant marks the sixth time in three years Texas State has won the backing of the foundation for expansion of its research capabilities.

“That is highly unusual,” Myers said. “And the win for the SEM, about three times larger than any previous NSF equipment grant, represents the maturation of what we’re trying to do here. Others have recognized that Texas State is a significant player in this arena. We’re getting validation from multiple parties of what we’re trying to do.”

This equipment will be used by the materials science engineering commercialization program, as well as the faculty in chemistry and biochemistry, engineering, engineering technology and physics at Texas State.

The electron microscope has electron beam lithography and other advanced processing and characterization capabilities, including Focused Ion Beam technology, putting Texas State’s microscopy capabilities on par with those of other state universities such as the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

“Electron beam lithography is not that uncommon, but now we have a built-in focused ion beam milling,” Myers said. “We can use that to make samples or mill structures directly. We can make structures in-situ. Plus we also have an ultra-high-precision stage, so when we put it all together, it gives us unique capability in the state. This is a top of the line instrument. The opportunities it gives us for new faculty research opportunities are tremendous … It’s an investment in our future that will reward us far more than most people realize.”

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