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  October 2, 2000

Researchers Net NSF Instrument Award

A multidisciplinary team of faculty from engineering, geology, physics and chemistry recently was awarded a Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation. The award of $620,000, with matching funds of $420,000 from various University sources, will allow the team to purchase a state-of-the-art automated digital transmission electron microscope.

The three-year grant was one of just 140 presented by the NSF under its Major Research Instrumentation Program and was among the 20 largest awards secured. It also represents the first NSF award of this type made to the University's Storrs campus.

The funds will be used to purchase the specialized transmission electron microscope and to support a full-time postdoctoral fellow to assist users over the three-year term of the grant. The NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program is designed to enhance research and education throughout the nation's colleges and universities by helping subsidize purchase of specialized, high-cost instrumentation.

Mark Aindow, associate professor of metallurgy and materials engineering and principal investigator on the proposal, comments, "We are delighted to have secured this MRI award. Transmission electron microscopes are probably the most powerful and versatile materials character- ization instruments available, but without an award of this type, the cost would be prohibitive. The capabilities of the new microscope will not only have a dramatic impact on a wide range of existing research programs, but will also put us in a very strong position to respond to the new federal nanoscale science and engineering initiatives."

The co-principal investigators on the proposal, who will be the instrument's primary users, are Raymond Joesten, professor of geology and geophysics, Nitin Padture, associate professor of metallurgy and materials engineering, Douglas Pease, professor of physics, and Steve Suib, professor of chemistry. Many other faculty from various engineering and scientific disciplines are also expected to make use of the instrument.

Since learning of the award in early August, the core team has entered into discussions with several manufacturers who develop custom-built transmission electron microscopes. Aindow expects to install the instrument early next summer in its permanent quarters at the Institute for Materials Science, an interdisciplinary research center involving engineering and science faculty from throughout the University. The Institute currently has a 17-year old transmission electron microscope that no longer meets the high-tech research needs of faculty.

The new instrument will have a resolving power of better than 0.19 nanometers (less than a 100-millionth of an inch), allowing atomic resolution digital images to be obtained from a wide variety of materials. It will also be equipped with an X-ray spectrometer and an electron energy filter, enabling detailed information to be obtained about the location and concentration of component elements, and even the electronic structure of the elements themselves. The new instrument will be shared among faculty whose research programs depend critically upon these capabilities for investigating materials such as new high temperature aircraft alloys, metamorphic rocks, novel tough ceramics, nanostructure d magnetic materials, and molecular sieves.

In addition to its value as a research tool, the automated digital transmission electron microscope will enrich the graduate and undergraduate educational experience. Aindow anticipates that the device, which can be networked across campus, will revolutionize teaching of electron microscopy and related topics by allowing faculty to combine more conventional teaching materials with live output from the microscope.

Nan Cooper