NSF awards SEM grant

By Christopher Galvan

Cal Poly Pomona has been awarded a $203,208 grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase and maintain a scanning electron microscope. The grant was approved Aug. 15 by the NSF’s Division of Materials Research, and the microscope will be available to the university and local communities.

Principal investigator and chair of the chemical and materials engineering department Vilupanur Ravi authored the proposal. His co-principal investigators include Assistant Professor Angel Valdes from the biological sciences department, Assistant Professors Keith Forward and Laila Jallo from the chemical and materials engineering department, and Professor Yong Gan from the mechanical engineering department. All five faculty members contributed to the proposal, and have plans to use the scanning electron microscopes in their own research.

A scanning electron microscope records images using a beam that bombards samples with electrons, and then translates the result to make high-magnification and high-resolution images. While the electrons interact with the sample they are scanning, they emit background signals that can provide even more detail of the surface and composition of the material.

Ravi hopes to study metallic alloys and their coatings to improve corrosion resistant materials. He is currently in the middle of a NASA-sponsored project, researching the reduction of the sublimation rate of nickel through the use of aluminum coatings.

The microscope will allow Ravi and his team to observe the effects of these coatings with more clarity and without having to leave the university. In the past, professors and students have had to use the equipment of other institutions for electron microscopy.

The grant was provided by the NSF via their Major Research Instrumentation program, and will be available to both undergraduate and graduate students at CPP.

“This is a pretty exciting thing for Cal Poly Pomona students to have the opportunity, and to have access to such a sophisticated piece of technology,” said Ravi. “Within the engineering department, the instrument will be primarily used by undergraduate students. There will be graduate student use as well.

“This is the first time here at Cal Poly we have had access to a microscope that will allow us to view samples at a high magnification and with great resolution so that we can see finer details in samples. It gives us a new level of capability and allows us to do cutting-edge research.”

The microscope will be kept in a College of Engineering laboratory, but will be accessible to other departments. According to the grant proposal, the instrument will be available to the rest of the university and the local community. Private businesses will have access to the instrument through industry-sponsored projects, as well as community and K-12 outreach programs.

Valdes plans on using the microscope to further his research on the morphology of sea slugs. Previously, Valdes drove to the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles to use their microscope for his projects.

“The SEM is a powerful tool to identify problematic species and understand the evolution of morphologic traits in sea slugs,” said Valdes. “I include SEM photographs in almost all my papers. The SEM is a critical teaching tool that I use to train my graduate and undergraduate students in the anatomical characteristics of sea slugs.”

Fourth-year biology student and Associated Students, Inc. Science Senator Chonlawan Khaothiemsang thinks that the microscope will be a great addition to the university.

“It’s amazing to be able to have this opportunity and access to this new resource,” said Khaothiemsang. “I’m sure the students that get to do research with it are extremely excited.”


Courtesy Dr. Ravi and team


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