Rutgers receives two world-class microscopes
As of Friday, Rutgers University is officially the home to two world-class microscopes, valued at $5.2 million together.
Leonard Feldman, director of the Rutgers Institute for Advanced Materials, Devices and Nanotechnology, said Friday’s event, “28th Annual Laboratory for Surface Modification Symposium-Advances in Nanoscale Materials Imaging,” hosted by the Laboratory for Surface Modification, saw an outstanding turnout from both the University community and the community at large.
“The day produced a great scientific dialogue among colleagues in academia and industry,” he said. “We are very excited about the research capabilities the technology has brought to Rutgers. There was great interest among attendees in the new microscopes and how the instruments will impact research endeavors.”
The helium ion microscope and scanning transmission electron microscope, funded in part by the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are the next step in their field and will be accessible to graduate and post-doctorate students as well as undergraduates under supervision, according to a press release.
Friday’s event was divided into two sections, with the morning focused on the electron microscope and the afternoon on the helium ion microscope. The event featured speakers who focused on microscopy.
“These two machines really position Rutgers to be at the forefront of any university in the world, certainly the United States, in terms of being able to image, or see, nanoparticles,” Feldman said.
Feldman said the seven-year-old Institute focuses on what he calls modern material science, or the creation of new materials that have important electronic or optical properties used in nanobiology.
“To see what you’re doing requires microscopes that work at a nanometer,” he said. “And what we’re talking about is two new microscopes — very advanced — that are designed to look at materials with this one nanometer kind of what I call spatial resolution so that they could examine the materials and know what’s been created.”
Optical microscopes, which Feldman said have been around for hundreds of years, will never be able to see things at one nanometer.
Electrons, because of their quantum properties, have wavelengths that are much smaller than the wavelength of light, and therefore scientists can use electron microscopes to view what is impossible to see with the optical counterpart, he explained.
“The new microscope … actually has a unique property to look at very small dimensions … close to a tenth of a nanometer, to be able to tell something about the way there are molecules on the surface, what molecules are on the surface and the way atoms vibrate on the surface,” he said.
No microscope has been able to do that up until now, Feldman said.
Torgny Gustafsson, principal investigator in the development of the helium ion microscope, said the two microscopes put Rutgers in a unique leadership position in the field of nanoscience.
“Things are getting smaller and smaller, and devices are getting smaller and smaller, and the advantage of that is they can be faster and faster and they can be less and less expensive,” said Gustafsson, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Not only do the microscopes have applications in physics, chemistry and engineering, but also in medicine and biology, he said.
In addition to speakers who are pioneers in their fields, the event featured about 30 graduate students who had the opportunity to present some of their work.
“We are also going to have a poster session where graduate students will present the work they have been doing … in anticipation of the availability of these microscopes,” Gustaffson said.
Some students presented fundamental studies of cancer cells to further understand how cancer works in human beings, he said. These microscopes will contribute to that understanding.
Feldman said a few students are working on making new photovoltaics, which is solar technology that converts sunlight into electricity. The technology does not emit carbon dioxide and is effective and low-cost.
The microscopes will also be used to look at catalyst materials, which Feldman said are nanoscale.
Related to chemistry, catalysis makes chemical reactions go faster and at lower temperatures, he said. New energy-saving catalysts can help save millions of dollars that currently go into gas production.
“We want to make the best catalysts in the world, and to see what we’re doing we need these microscopes,” Feldman said.
Feldman said the Institute has nurtured these two projects.
“Each of these microscopes is very innovative, and the innovation is done by Rutgers people in collaboration with other people in the country, so each microscope has a very high tech modification and innovation to be able to do these world class investigations,” he said.