Ward Beecher Feature: The Electron Microscope Facility

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Dr. Virgil Solomon looking at the chemical composition of a sample.

From the outside, Ward Beecher Hall looks like a normal academic building. Sure, it houses a planetarium and a greenhouse, but there is more than that on the inside. Youngstown State University has the privilege of having an Electron Microscope (EM) Facility on its campus.

The first part of the facility was started in 2009 with the help of a grant from Ohio Third Frontier. The $2.1 million grant was used to redesign part of the fifth floor of Ward Beecher Hall to accommodate both a focused ion beam/scanning electron microscope and a scanning/transmission electron microscope.

The facility, including the surrounding labs, needs to be able to obtain constant temperature and humidity to ensure proper working conditions for the different microscopes. There also needs to be consistent vibration and noise levels, most of which is cancelled out by soundproof walls and insulation. The JEOL 2100 Scanning/Transmission Electron Microscope has its own vibration table to reduce the amount of outside vibration to ensure the microscope can give a clean image of the sample.

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A gold nano particle on a carbon film.

The microscopes are used to visualize sub-micron features and to determine the chemical composition and chemical structure of different materials. With the microscopes, a scientist or an engineer can understand the structure, properties, processing, and performance of a material. For example, there can be two materials of the same chemical composition, but made in two different ways. One may have a different conductivity than the other and may behave differently.

One of the biggest challenges in electron microscopy is creating the samples. The samples need to be a certain size and thickness to be used in the microscope. The samples for the JEOL 2100 need to be less than 10-7mm thick and fit on a 3mm diameter transmission electron microscope (TEM) grid, which is usually made of copper or aluminum. The samples for the JEOL 2100 can be made from larger samples using the focused ion beam/scanning electron microscope, the JEOL JIB-4500, in a process called nano-manufacturing.

Another challenge for the Electron Microscope Facility is the training the JEOL 2100 requires. Learning to operate the instrument requires a lot of energy and commitment from the users. The students have the opportunity to be trained in using the electron microscopes either taking the specialty graduate classes offered by the STEM College or by individual training with EM instrumentation scientist Dr. Dingqiang Li.

“I have been using electron microscopes for fifteen years, but I’m continuously learning about the instrumentation and microscopy techniques,” Dr. Virgil Solomon, assistant professor and coordinator of the facility, said. Dr. Solomon was hired to help develop the EM Facility, in part because of his work at the University of Connecticut.

The Electron Microscope lab works in collaboration with companies like Fireline Incorporated, in Youngstown. Together, they do research on developing new materials for making better products.

The JEOL 2100

The JEOL 2100

In the future, the facility hopes to add a second phase to the Electron Microscope Lab. Two more electron microscopes will be added to the facility.  The new microscopes will be located on the first floor of Moser Hall. The instruments will be purchased with the help of two grants: one from the National Science Foundation and the other from Ohio Board of Regents. The microscopes will be a field emission scanning electron microscope (SEM) and a variable pressure SEM. The microscopes will provide the college with investigation tools that complement the analytical capabilities of the focused ion beam/SEM and the transmission electron microscope. The instruments will be added later this year.

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