New NSF-funded microscope makes YSU one of nation’s best

Virgil Solomon

Virgil Solomon

“We stand on the brink of creating a top-tier electron microscopy facility.”

That’s what Virgil C. Solomon, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, says about a $444,555 grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase a new, variable pressure, scanning electron microscope (VP-SEM) for YSU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Solomon, principle investigator for the grant, said the new VP-SEM gives YSU equal footing among other established research universities.

The microscope will require a climate-controlled lab, which is currently under construction in Moser Hall. It is expected to be in place in approximately a year.

Solomon noted that the addition of the VP-SEM will compliment YSU’s two other electron microscopes.

“This is important research instrumentation not only for materials science, or inorganic materials, but also for organic material for biology, medicine and even forensic science,” he said. “Our VP-SEM will expand our ability for interdisciplinary research not only at the department level, but also in the industrial and regional levels.”

YSU currently has two different types of electron microscopes: transmission electron (TEM) and focused ion beam (FIB). TEMs use focused electrons transmitted through an ultra-thin specimen to produce an image and provide crystallographic and chemical information, while FIBs use a stream of ions to image and process the specimen.

While standard optical microscopes can image materials up to 2,000 times, the VP-SEM can image both organic and inorganic materials at a near atomic-level resolution, about 500,000 times. Because samples are more easily prepared, the VP-SEM is a more versatile, easy to use instrument, Solomon said.

“In most cases, a TEM or FIB cannot work with organic samples due to the complexity of sample preparation,“ he said. “The VP-SEM will allow our pool of highly qualified instructors and students to simply prepare samples for study. They can take any kind of sample—organic, inorganic, conducting, non-conducting—and they can put it in the microscope and get a high resolution micrograph and chemical composition.”

Solomon noted the new VP-SEM will be equipped with electron beam lithography, which will allow for the creation of semiconductor devices; neither the TEM nor FIB units have this capability. The instrument will also have the capabilities for crystallographic analysis of the specimens.

“With the TEM, FIB and SEM, we are going to have a very nice, state-of-the-art electron microscopy facility,” he said. “We will be quite competitive and at the same level, in this kind of instrumentation, as any other university in the country.”

Solomon, a native of Romania, joined the YSU faculty as part of the 2009 Ohio Third Frontier grant, which brought him to campus to oversee the creation of YSU’s electron microscopy facility.


Story by Robert Merz