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Jul. 31, 2012
Under the Microscope
W.M. Keck Foundation, Trinity University combine resources for three new science instruments
SAN ANTONIO - Scientists and students at Trinity University will be able to analyze very small materials with one of three new microscopes funded by a $250,000 gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation that has been bundled with a $30,000 contribution from the University.
Called "Seeing at the Nanoscale: Exploring the Relationship Between Function and Structure," the $280,000 project will bring to campus instruments that will incorporate nanotechnology across the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula. Professors and students from Trinity's departments of physics and astronomy, chemistry, biology, and geosciences will conduct initial research. In time, scientists from other San Antonio institutions of higher learning may be able to send research questions and log onto a computer network with research data for course work or web conferences.
New to Trinity is a scanning electron microscope, which will take pictures using electrons instead of light, said Jennifer Steele, associate professor of physics and astronomy and the principal investigator of the project. The grant also will allow for an upgrade to an existing atomic force microscope (AFM) and the addition of a second AFM.
Images from the scanning electron microscope will streamed to a television monitor placed in the lobby of the new Center for the Sciences and Innovation (CSI) on the Trinity campus, serving to reinforce the concept of "opening up science" to science and non-science majors and promoting interactions that spark interdepartmental collaborations.
The scanning electron microscope will provide images with higher resolutions than available using other microscopes, Steele said, adding that such close-up images will foster elemental analysis that relates structure to the function of material and help uncover a material's composition or properties. For example, geoscience professors can guide students in learning which elements are present in rocks - which can better explain how rocks were formed, and thus, support existing theories or inspire new ones, Steele said.
Steele is developing a new course on nanotechnology fabrication methods that will give Trinity students a taste of graduate school. "They will have to reproduce someone else's work - read a paper, figure out what the (first) scientists did, go through as many of the details of the paper as possible - and publish it with images and graphics. It will be a more realistic picture of what it's like to do grad school research," she said.
The equipment must be built specifically for Trinity and is expected to arrive in the spring of 2013. It will be housed initially in the geosciences department in the Marrs McLean Science Center and moved to the CSI when construction is completed.