If you want to look more closely at something—perhaps up to one million times more closely—look no further than the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center (AMIC) at Penn State Behrend, which houses an environmental scanning electron microscope, or ESEM. The instrument uses an electron beam to magnify the surface of materials by up to one million times.
Researchers can use the ESEM to study contamination in a sample or to better understand the structure, property, and processing characteristics of hard surfaces, including plastics, ceramics and metals, as well as softer, tissue-based samples, including biological materials.
Access to an ESEM advances the research of faculty members and students in both the School of Engineering and the School of Science. Examples of Behrend faculty members using the ESEM to expand their research capabilities include:
- Dr. Jason Bennett, associate professor of chemistry, who has used the instrument to test designs for an electrochemical sensor that could help detect hydrogen sulfide gas in the human body. Small amounts of the gas are produced naturally; scientists are studying how this molecule is linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Bennett’s sensor is fitted with a polymer coating. The magnification power of the ESEM and the ability to conduct elemental analysis—an X-ray reading, of sorts—will help him isolate any imperfections in the polymer.
- Dr. Michael Campbell, distinguished professor of biology, who has used the ESEM to analyze potato samples, looking for ways to inhibit sprouting.
- Todd Cook, associate professor of biology, who has used the ESEM to magnify prehistoric shark teeth.
- Dr. Alicyn Rhoades, associate professor of engineering, who studies the cooling rates and crystallization of polymers. She has used the ESEM to analyze samples under varying conditions of heat and humidity.
A Regional Resource
The purchase of the ESEM was made possible by a $662,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which often supports the installation of costly research equipment where it can serve as a regional resource. To meet that intent, the college, through its open-lab initiative, makes the ESEM available to researchers at Erie County’s other universities and to scientists at local companies. Additional programs will be developed to support regional K-12 STEM outreach.
Local and regional companies already have used the ESEM to enhance their own research capabilities. SKF Aerospace, located in AMIC, has flown employees to Erie to work on the instrument. Materials scientists from LORD Corporation and Harmac Medical Products also have used it.
To request access, contact us.